Lost gold, a young woman disguised as a boy, renegade Indians with a half-Anglo leader: all of us have encountered these romance staples before. The difference with Maggie James' Arizona Gold is that she makes them work. Only when these elements are no longer center stage does the book begin to drag.
Nineteen-year-old Kitty Parrish grew up a pariah in her Shenandoah Valley community because her mother sold horses to the Yankees during the Civil War. When her mother is killed in a barn fire set by local vigilantes, Kitty has no more reason to stay in a place she has come to hate. She signs the horse farm over to her hired hands and prepares to join her stepfather, Wade Parrish, in Tombstone.
Before she can leave, however, Kitty receives a letter from Opal Grimes, a faro dealer in Tombstone and Wade's very good friend, telling her that he and his partner have been tortured and killed by men trying to find their gold strike. With nothing to keep her in Virginia, Kitty sticks to her plan to travel to Arizona, determined to find out who killed the only father she had ever known.
In school, as a child, Kitty got into so many fights, her mother finally started sending her to school in boy's clothes. When the ticket agent tells her about the dangers of travel to Tombstone in the 1880's, Kitty decides that this isn't the time to switch to dressing like a woman. Traveling under the name of Kit Parrish, her frayed overalls and tattered shirt successfully conceal her gender, as does the dirty hair she lets fall in front of her face. For further protection, she straps a gun - a gun she knows how to use - and holster around her waist. Thus disguised, she has almost made it to Tombstone when Indians attack the stage.
Ryder McCloud is the leader of the small band of renegade Indians attacking Kitty's stagecoach, and there is nothing random about the attack. Half Chiricahua Apache, his father was Wade Parrish's partner, Dan McCloud, and he needs his father's half of the gold to fund his band of renegade Chiricahua's move to Mexico. His father told him that he and his partner had drawn up a map showing the location of the strike, then torn it in two in such a way that both parts were needed to locate the gold. Ryder thinks that with Wade Parrish's half of the map, he can find it.
A trip into Tombstone and a threatening visit to Opal Grimes, and Ryder learns that Kitty Parrish has Wade's half of the map and that she is en route to Tombstone. Hence the raid on the stagecoach, lead by Ryder in his Apache guise. The attack is a failure, however - the only passenger on the stagecoach is a grimy adolescent boy named Kit. After the boy injures one of Ryder's raiding party, he takes the boy back to the Chiricahua encampment as a slave.
For as long as Kitty was disguised as a boy and for as long as Ryder failed to equate Kit with Kitty, Arizona Gold worked for me. I kept turning those pages eagerly. Once Kitty and Ryder teamed up to hunt for the gold together, I began to find Ryder annoying. Kitty complained that he wasn't being honest with her, that he asked for her full cooperation without being willing to tell her his plans. Frankly, I agreed with Kitty.
Not only was Ryder less than forthcoming about his plans, but he kept important details of his identity secret from her while arguing that she should trust him with her half of the map. Ryder's guardedness and lack of trust in Kitty made me wonder whether their romance would really have developed as it did.
Maggie James, who also writes categories as Patricia Hagan, has done her research for Arizona Gold. I especially enjoyed the nuggets of information on travel by stagecoach and life in a Chiricahua camp that she slipped painlessly into her well-written narrative. If only James had been able to keep up the level of interest and authenticity she established in the first 100 pages…but I look for her to do just that in the future. In the meantime, readers of Arizona Gold should find the book a pleasant read.
--Nancy J. Silberstein