Painted by the Sun is trademark Elizabeth Grayson. An author who never fails to present her American historicals with meticulous detail, here she turns her talents to the story of a woman searching for her long-lost son and finding much more than she ever hoped.
Shea Waterston is traveling the West in 1875 as an itinerant photographer, accompanied by her friend and assistant, Owen. Her late husband left her his equipment and his knowledge; now she is putting both to use as she searches for a baby she left on the doorstep of a foundling home ten years earlier. Starving, unwed, and out of work, Shea made the best choice for her child. Later, when she’d married the kind photographer who found her half-frozen and took her in, the boy was nowhere to be found sent west on an orphan train for adoption.
Shea and Owen roll into the dusty town of Breckenridge, Colorado in time to witness a hanging. Thinking that photos will perhaps be saleable to the newspapers back East, Shea sets up to photograph the event. Her plans are foiled by the arrival of Judge Cameron Gallimore, who takes one look and claps Shea in jail. She’s let out after the hanging, and her path is destined to cross Cam’s again when fortune brings her back to Breckenridge, where she decides to open up a small studio.
Cam can best be described as weary of heart. In four years as a judge he has presided over eleven hangings, a heavy mental burden for a man to carry. His joy in life is his son, Rand, adopted off an orphan train some years earlier. Lily, Cam’s sister, shares his life on the Gallimore ranch. Lily hides out, in fact, rather than face the public with the burn scars she carries on her face - scars that are at the heart of Cam’s ever-present feelings of guilt.
Shea’s reappearance will jolt Cameron in ways he never expected, and as he fights his attraction to this unconventional Irish widow, both he and Shea will find themselves tumbling into the kinds of love that is built on compassion and understanding of one another’s flaws. These two wounded hearts can heal each other, if they will only let themselves do so.
Readers may feel they have the plot all figured out by page thirty. Don’t worry -Elizabeth Grayson is far too clever for that. Her carefully-constructed plotting has more than a few twists and turns, and enough of the unexpected to keep readers on their toes. Besides, I suspect most readers will be too absorbed in the growing romance between Cam and Shea to be trying to outguess the plot.
Cam is the kind of hero that fairly defines the western historical romance. Strong, fair-minded, a bit laconic, and burning underneath, he’s the perfect foil for the feisty Shea. He soothes, encourages, and sets her aflame, all at once. Shea, for her part, is an endearing blend of forthright determination and vulnerability. She needs Cam’s strength as much as he needs her liveliness. Together, they are an irresistible combination.
The author’s meticulous use of period details is a standout. The techniques involved in post-Civil-War photography are clearly explained in a way that is informative without being distracting. And Owen, suffering from “soldier’s heart”, is a vivid reminder of the horrors of war and the scars they can leave. Small points, but the kind that makes a book memorable.
Painted by the Sun is an intense read. Everyone in the story has problems to deal with, and readers need to be aware that there is little in the way of leavening humor here. But if you like your historicals finely-drawn and your heroes classically strong, this book may well be the next addition to your keeper shelf.