As I was reading The Drifter, I thought I would be recommending this story set in the late 1800's. The characters, the plot complications, even the writing style are reminiscent of a LaVyrle Spencer book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it right up until the final chapters. The weak ending, however, spoils an otherwise charming story. I was disappointed that this romance with its strong heroine still has the ever-present underlying message “get a man and all your problems will be solved.”
Julia Bennett is a misfit in Avalanche, Arizona Territory. College-educated at Vassar, more intelligent than the other residents (and not reluctant to demonstrate it), and the author of Miss Julia’s Behavior Book, three volumes on etiquette and propriety, Julia is living in Avalanche where her father owns the apothecary shop. She is desperate to return to the east where she believes she will fit in. She has the opportunity to write an etiquette column for an eastern magazine, but her father will not agree to her moving back east unless she has a husband to accompany her. No man, however, is interested in her.
Graham Corley is a bounty hunter. He is taking a few days off after delivering his last prisoner. Raised in an orphanage, he’s always felt like a loner even in Avalanche, the friendliest town in the West. He’s adopted the life of a drifter because he’s been unable to form more permanent relationships.
Julia decides that Graham is the answer to her problems. She asks him to enter a sham engagement with her. As soon as they leave town, he can get an annulment and move on. Graham will only agree to pose as her suitor if in return she’ll teach him how to read. He changes his plans and decides to hang around Avalanche for a while.
Each of them will soon be regretting this engagement is merely a fiction.
One of the story’s strength is its character development. Julia and Graham are both well-developed, appealing characters, and in spite of the many differences between them, there’s no doubt they’re absolutely right for each other. Jack sees Julia in a new perspective. She’s not just the know-it-all, overly proper woman others see. He recognizes that she’s sensitive and sympathetic. Their budding love is sweet and touching.
How I wish the author had kept her story on its G-rated, old-fashioned track. Instead, there’s an abrupt change in tone. The Big Misunderstanding rears its ugly head when neither the hero nor the heroine hints they may have experienced a change of mind and want something more permanent, Julia reaches some unwarranted conclusions, Miss Julia’s Behavior Book gets completely ignored, and they both act in an immature, out-of-character manner. Moreover, the gentle humor of the majority of the book veers into near-slapstick near the end.
I appreciate a hot romance as much as anyone, but sometimes a sweet G-rated romance is just right. It’s too bad this one lost its direction on the way to happily ever after. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like in The Drifter. If you’ve missed those wonderful romances by LaVyrle Spencer, you might want check it out.