The Midnight Moon

Molly in the Middle

The Renegade’s Heart by Stobie Piel
(Leisure, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4964-3
Diego de Aguirre is the lazy, shiftless, drunken brother of Rafael, the Renegade, the hero of Tewa Pueblo of New Mexico Territory. Rafael, Tewa’s schoolteacher, had saved the town and its multi-national population from oppressors by donning an ancient Indian warrior mask and riding for justice.

Now it is 1890. Rafael, his wife, and several schoolchildren are away on a trip, but the Renegade’s services might be required again. The greedy and pretentious Carlton Bradford has been nosing around Tewa.

Melanie Ann Muessen arrives in town. The daughter of a Civil War photographer and a photographer herself, it is her intention to photograph the people of New Mexico Territory to record their faces and their land for posterity. She needs a guide, and Diego, who is half-Zuni, is recommended. She is bothered both by his devastating good looks as well as his questionable character but accepts that he is well qualified.

Melanie and Diego are present when Bradford backed by armed henchmen announces that Rafael has sold Tewa to unnamed parties and he is there to administer it. It is immediately apparent that the benign leadership Tewa has known has been replaced by tyranny. The town’s baker Miguel is sentenced to a vicious flogging as punishment for a minor offense. What can anyone do? The Renegade is gone.

But, no, just as Miguel is about to be subjected to the flogging, the masked Renegade rides to the rescue! Who can it be? Rafael is gone, isn’t he?

Melanie takes the Renegade’s photograph. She believes him to be Diego, but moments later Diego crawls out from under the saloon floor after having slept off another bout of drunkenness.

Tewa’s problems, however, cannot be solved by a single visit from the Renegade. Mo< If you’ve been envisioning the tip of a rapier slashing bold Z’s right and left, you’re not alone. Yes, Zorro - or at least his spirit - rides again!

The Renegade’s Heart, the sequel to the author’s Renegade, suffers from several problems. A major one is that it takes itself seriously but is simply too farfetched.

The opening scene has the hero waking up after having slept off a night of drunken carousing on the dirt under the saloon, but later he and other characters state that he doesn’t drink that much. (Sleeping it off under the floor and waking up thinking he’s in a coffin sure sounds like “that much” to me.) Of course, he’s absolutely irresistible to women because he’s so handsome. I guess good looks must compensate for a ne’er-do-well lifestyle.

Melanie has an unrealistic freedom of movement given the story’s setting. The post-Civil-War era was Victorian in outlook and behavior yet Melanie is traveling with all her equipment without companion or guide across America through Indian territory with the same independence as a professional woman of the early 21st century. And no one says there’s anything strange about it.

Of course, Tewa itself is mighty strange. This is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community where differences in race, color, and origin are completely immaterial. The two hotels are run by Chinese. The baker is one of several Mexicans. The Indians speak fluent English and have intermarried with whites. There are several native-American-mixed-race characters including the hero. This is a totally accepting, non-discriminatory, equal-opportunity community. You’ve got to wonder why Geronimo took offense if New Mexico Territory was this friendly.

The Renegade’s Heart is a retread of a retread. Its predecessor Renegade was a clone of the Zorro legend. Now the first Renegade is missing, but the Renegade rides again. Romance novels are replete with stock plots, but this seems a bit excessive. Next I suppose we’ll have Son of the Renegade then Six Degrees of Separation from the Renegade. Personally, if it doesn’t have Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones doing the tango, I’d just as soon skip it.

--Lesley Dunlap

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