Snow Fire


Flint by Norah Hess
(Dorchester, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8439-4840-X
Is it possible to have everything readers dislike about romance novels in one book? I didn't think so until I read Flint. All that was missing was amnesia.

Lauren Hart, raised by outlaws and gamblers, has always dreamed of having a safe, secure home like other girls. After her father is killed, she goes to Jackson Hole Wyoming with his best friend to claim the ranch he won in a poker game. Flint Mahone is a wild womanizer who returns from the Civil War with a hard heart. The only thing that can soften him is finding his dead brother's children.

The first warning sign is the age difference between Flint and Lauren. He's 36, seventeen years older than her nineteen. Once a reader finds out more about the characters, the difference doesn't seem that bad because neither of them acts remotely their age.

Lauren's first glimpse of Flint is in the company of a prostitute on the street, so she immediately decides he's a whoremonger and hates him. Despite this she gives him flirtatious little waves and smiles the next time they meet. Then she hates him again because he's a womanizing pig. Then she lets him fondle her breasts when she's paralyzed with fear by a lightning storm. She does not remember this, though and wonders why her nipples get hard whenever she sees Flint thereafter. Then she hates him because he's a womanizing pig. Then she likes him because he rescues her. Then she hates him because he's a womanizing pig. Do you see where this is going?

Flint is about as unappealing as heroes get. He spends most of the beginning of the book hanging out at various saloons and talking about "getting a poke." When he meets Lauren, he is of course instantly attracted to her. He is perfectly willing to grope Lauren at any time she seems remotely willing but the sum total of his romantic seduction is to wonder what it'd be like to "mate" with her. Despite the fact that he's a carousing slob who's never been around children, Flint is magically transformed into Alan Alda when his little relatives arrive. His pop psychology talks with the kiddies are unbelievable.

Lauren and Flint each come with their own old family friend/parental figure. Kate is the housekeeper who raised Flint since age four when his mother died. Dud was Lauren's father's best friend who has helped raise Lauren since childhood. Neither one of them is good for anything except the requisite speeches about "settling down" and "staying away from the wild man." Then there is Asher, Flint's wild but charming friend. His presence is very suspicious, as if he's being set up for his own book, because he has no discernable purpose in the story.

The plot is practically non-existent. Lauren and Flint's relationship develops through a series of contrived strandings. First, they get caught in a violent thunderstorm and have to take shelter in an old trappers cabin (see above fondling reference). After Lauren's rescue from the resident villains, they are trapped in a snowstorm and must take shelter in a burned out cabin. Of course there is only room for one bedroll. Next, Lauren finds a wounded Flint during yet another snowstorm and they must spend the night together under a tarp. Yet with only 100 pages left they still hadn't expressed any kind of romantic emotion towards each other.

If all this wasn't bad enough, add lots of gratuitous violence and near-rape to prove how bad the bad guys are. Beating a pregnant woman would have been enough for just about any reader; it was unnecessary to include the sexual assault of a 12 year-old girl. To be fair this was not described explicitly, but just its mere presence was a turn-off.

There is a pointless subplot involving Lauren's long lost Aunt Lillie and her stepson Colly. Colly is obviously supposed to be a rival for Lauren's affections, but he spends most of his time sulking because Flint is more of a stud than he is. Mostly, the two of them lurk around the background of the book until the last few chapters, and then do some ridiculous things to tie up the loose ends.

To round out the rest of this book there is a point of view that can't decide where it wants to come from. A reader is abruptly thrown into a character's head just long enough to get a reaction shot, and then back out to someone else.

There are also several typographical errors and a completely out of period cover. The hero is wearing a fleece lined denim jacket with metal snaps circa 1970, not 1870. Neither of these things is the author's fault, but they served as icing on the cake for this dismal read.

--Anne Bulin

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