has also reviewed:

The Captain's Lady

My Reckless Heart

My Steadfast Heart

 
With All My Heart by Jo Goodman
(Zebra, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-6145-5
****
The above rating is directed primarily on those readers who have been following the fate of the Thorne brothers since the wrenching prologue to Jo Goodman's My Steadfast Heart. Eight year old Colin Thorne watched his brothers adopted by strangers from the foundling home where they had been taken after the murder of their parents. Even then he dreamt of reuniting his family, so he placed an heirloom earring in each of the boys' clothes.

My Steadfast Heart uncovered the secret of Colin's family and ended with his discovery that his father was the son of an earl and he finds himself heir to the title and estates. He also finds his brother Decker who had been adopted by a pair of thieves and had lived his life on the wrong side of the law. The two are united because Decker has one of the earrings.

Decker's story is told in My Reckless Heart where he woos and wins the shipping heiress Jonna Remington. At the end of that book, Decker and Jonna discover the second earring in the laundry of their friend Graham Denison. Graham has already left Boston, leaving behind the belief that he is the infamous Falconer, one of the most successful operators on the Underground Railroad.

This brings us to the beginning of With All My Heart. Graham is meeting with his brother Garret in a Charleston dive. Graham is a disgrace to the slave-holding Denison family and a barrier to Garret's ambitions. So he arranges to have Graham beaten and shanghaied, with the understanding that Graham will never return from sea. Graham wakes up on board the Lady Jane Gray with no memory of who he is.

Five years later, Colin and Decker and their wives are meeting with psychic Berkeley Shaw and her husband. They have searched everywhere for Graham who seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Berkeley's psychic talents are their last hope. When Berkeley holds the Graham's earring, she is stunned by the power of the feelings it evokes in her. But her husband insists that she hinted that Graham might be in San Francisco. Colin and Decker agree to send the Shaws to San Francisco to search for the missing man.

There is potentially a problem when a review takes this long to get into the meat of a book. Most of the action takes place in San Francisco in 1850. Grey Janeway, owner of the Phoenix, the best gambling hall in this wide open city, is on the docks when he sees a young boy run into trouble with the infamous Sydney Ducks. Grey intervenes to save him from the Ducks and discovers he is a her.

Berkeley's husband had abandoned her and she has been masquerading as a boy. Grey takes her back to the Phoenix and decides to use her talents and her beauty to enhance his profits. He is also attracted to the lovely young woman. For her part, Berkeley comes to believe that Grey and Graham are somehow connected.

The romance in With All My Heart is between Grey and Berkeley. The external conflict has to do with the machinations of the husband whom she believes is dead but who has his own agenda. The background is rough and tumble San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush. They mystery has to do with what is in fact the relationship between Grey and Graham (although this is pretty obvious.)

Of the three books in this trilogy, With All My Heart is the weakest. Yet it has many enjoyable elements. Goodman writes very well and her hero and heroine are attractive characters. If they are not as compelling as Colin and Mercedes or Decker and Jonna, they are nonetheless worth rooting for. And Goodman succeeds in bringing San Francisco at its rowdiest to life.

If the book seemed overlong and if the denouement could have been more effective, With All My Heart is a must read for all those who have been enthralled by the saga of the Thorne brothers. Goodman continues to depend on improbable coincidences to a greater degree than I like, but I am still glad I picked up My Steadfast Heart two years ago and I have enjoyed seeing the ultimate happy ending to the drama that began in that foundling home all those years ago.

--Jean Mason


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