The Tombstone Rose
by Annie McKnight
(Leisure, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4681-4
One of the imperatives for any author who writes a romance is to have characters whom the reader can care about. We can get annoyed with the characters, we can even get mad at them, but we have to care about them. Unfortunately, Annie McKnight failed in this regard. I simply didn’t care about Charlotte Connor, “the Tombstone Rose.” Since the sprawling and sometimes incoherent plot of this book is also hard to follow, I do not view this western romance as a success.

McKnight obviously did lots and lots of research about Tombstone, Arizona in the 1880s. The town is best known for the famous “Gunfight at OK Corral,” which the author includes in her book, for reasons which escape me, since it doesn’t really advance the plot, other than the fact that the heroine is enamored of Morgan Earp for a while. But we learn quite a bit about Tombstone at its zenith as a mining boom town, about mining law, about claim jumping, about all sorts of things.

One of my responsibilities in a review is to provide a plot summary. This is no easy task, but I’ll give it a whirl.

The story begins with widowed rancher Jake Cottrell riding into town to try to recover his Mexican father-in-law’s prize bull, which was stolen by rustlers. He hires some men to help him steal back the bull, but they can’t do it because the bull is so strong. So Jake decides to buy the bull at auction. But on his way to do so, he stops to help a young woman who is being accosted by two drunken fellows. The young woman, rather than being grateful for Jake’s assistance, rather snottily tells him, “Nobody asked you to rescue me.” Thus Jake meets Charlotte, one of more annoying heroines I have come across in a long time.

Do not ask me to try to explain how it is that Charlotte has come to Tombstone and is living with a Mexican brother and sister, Maria and Roberto. Suffice it to say that eighteen year old Charlotte has a mission; she is determined to revenge herself against Dr. Edward Chessler whom she blames for her sister’s death. She also plans to fulfill her sister’s dream of becoming a singer.

Wyatt Earp, having bought the bull (remember the bull?), now challenges Jake to a race, with the bull as the prize. At the race, Charlotte catches the attention of Morgan Earp and is invited to sit with the Earps where she hears them discussing their plans to track the outlaws. In the third heat of the race, Maria’s dog runs across the track and Jake is seriously hurt. Since Maria feels guilty, she and Charlotte visit Jake at the boarding house and somehow, the landlady suggests that Jake teach them to ride. And by now, we are at about page 70.

In pursuit of her dream of performing, Charlotte takes a job at a local saloon/dancehall, but when the proprietor refuses to let her perform, hooks up with a much shadier character who has nefarious designs., I can’t go on. Really, there isn’t a plot here at all, just event after event after event.

I guess that the author meant Charlotte to come across as a strong and determined young lady, but this was not how she seemed to me. Rather, she came across as selfish, shortsighted, and unbelievably lucky. As for the hero, Jake never really came alive at all. And I really couldn’t fathom why he fell in love with Charlotte.

Thus, I must confess that I found The Tombstone Rose a most unsatisfying book. The plot was confusing at best and missing at worst. The heroine was annoying and the hero was underdeveloped. I’m afraid I have to give The Tombstone Rose one of my rare one-heart ratings.

--Jean Mason

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