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Outlaw by Lisa Plumley
(Zebra, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6120-X
***
Outlaw reminds me of "The Perils of Pauline Revisited." Amelia O'Malley, the heroine is young, silly, and impulsive and spirals from one impossible situation to the next. It can be said that in every instance, she is the author of her own misfortune.

Amelia is on a stagecoach deep in the Arizona Territory in April of 1879. Traveling from Michigan she is delivering a satchel full of books for her brother so he can elope. The stage is robbed by the infamous "poet bandit" and frightened passengers throw their belongings out the window, even though the bandit didn't ask for them. Amelia decides she is unwilling to part with her satchel of books and money and jumps out to retrieve them. The stage leaves and she is abandoned in the desert.

Suddenly, Mason appears and demands that she come with him. Mason denies being the bandit but is unwilling to even share his last name with Amelia because he is wanted for murder. He is searching for his young son, Ben, who has been kidnapped by the Sharpe brothers.

Mason is trying to protect Amelia from the deadly desert, so when another stagecoach comes through, he puts her on it. She then creates enough of a stir that he is captured. On the way to Tucson, her big mouth leads the passengers to believe that she is an accessory. Soon, she and Mason find themselves in the same cell awaiting a magistrate.

Amelia orchestrates their escape, and so it goes on and on, with Amelia the center of every maelstrom in Mason's search for Ben and the vindication of his name. The spark between them is ignited when, at the age of 21, Amelia receives her first kiss ever from Mason in the middle of the desert.

The novel is fast paced, but Amelia is often too ingenuous to be credible, and too impulsive to stay alive in that time and environment. Her antics of a 20th century liberated female seem out of character for the time period.

The dialogue is witty and energetic, but Amelia's contributions are often silly and sophomoric. Mason generates a lot of sympathy, so the reader's response to this couple may be mixed. If the heroine doesn't bother you, then you will enjoy some of the benefits of a well-researched novel set in the Arizona Territory.

--Thea Davis


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