Lynna Banning’s fourth Harlequin Historical should be entitled Erika Scharf, Miracle Woman, rather than Plum Creek Bride. In this latest effort, Banning’s heroine seems slightly off the mark. Erika is attractive, independent, smart, innovative, creative, beautiful, lusty -- she has many qualities that make her a winner in the heroine department. However, there seems to be no one saying when enough is enough.
Erika is hyperbole personified. A poor, but feisty immigrant, she is burdened by having to represent all good things for all people in this town. Apparently no one else cares the way she does.
Soon after arriving in this country, Erika was hired sight unseen by the late wife of Dr. Jonathan Callendar prior to their baby’s birth. Unaware of her employer’s death, Erika crosses the country and arrives on the widower’s doorstep in Plum Creek, Oregon, expecting to care for baby Marian Elizabeth.
Unquestionably, the widower and his housekeeper, Adeline Benbow, are in desperate straits. The housekeeper is loyal but old and is simply not up to caring for a new infant. The beleaguered father, Dr. Callender, is locked in a life and death struggle with the town quack over appropriate medical care. He has been caring for the people of Plum Creek for a decade, but the town seems disinterested in avoiding an imminent cholera threat. A constantly crying infant within earshot of his first-floor office exacerbates his problems.
While the charismatic quack plies his elixirs, Dr. Callender begs the Mayor and others of the town’s ruling elite to listen to him. Banning’s portrayal of this dire situation and the consequences of the medically ignorant townsfolk’s ignoring the cholera threat is a positive in this book.
Dr. Callendar announces they have no need for Erika’s help, since he plans to send his offspring to live with relatives in Scotland as soon as possible. Erika is horrified by his heartless attitude and by the prospect of losing this job. There are few, if any, jobs open to her, since she speaks almost no English.
A quick-study, Erika masters her new language in record time and goes toe-to-toe in a grammatical game of wits with the Mayor’s bossy wife. Her verbal face-off with the mayor’s wife, though entertaining and imaginative, is simply not believable, considering her limited command of the English language. Even more unbelievable is her confronting local bigots and holding off a lynch mob.
Not only linguistically gifted, Erika is a “natural” mother. Although she’s never been around a baby, she hides her inexperience and within hours of her arrival in the Callender household seems to have overcome that deficiency. And it does not end there. Erika becomes the hard-nosed, chilly Mrs. Benbow’s confidante, is a gifted student of the harp, (and manages to quiet the colicky infant while practicing), and behaves more like a 1986 liberated woman than an 1886 arrival from Europe trying to fit in.
In addition to the extraordinary attributes of the heroine, there are problems with the hero. Due to the confused depiction of Dr. Callender’s first marriage, the reader has no clue to his true feelings about his dead wife or their relationship. It is impossible to gauge how difficult it is for him to forge a new relationship with any woman.
If you stick with this story long enough, you will find some scenes that are interesting, informative, and credible. But most of Plum Creek Bride is devoted to the recounting of unbelievable tales of Erika’s triumph against all odds. For me, it was just too far over the top.