The Brides of Durango: Elise

Eden

 
Defiant by Bobbi Smith
(Leisure, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-8439-5664-X
**
One of my favorite booksellers recently told me that westerns were making a comeback. If books like Defiant are what fans of the sub genre have to look forward to we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Clint Williams should be dead. A Texas Ranger, he was home for a visit when the deadly Tucker Gang came calling. Clint’s father, also a Ranger, was very close to capturing the gang, but they struck first. Everyone is dead. Clint miraculously survives his wounds, and vows vengeance. To do so, he takes on the assumed identity of gunfighter Kane McCullough and tracks the Tucker Gang to Dry Springs, Texas.

Rachel Hammond is the innocent, beautiful daughter of the Dry Springs preacher. Daddy has a thing about crusading, and one night takes his family and members of his congregation into the Last Chance Saloon to save all the sinners. As one can imagine, their message is not well received, and Rachel soon finds herself being pawed by a drunken lout. Clint rides to the rescue, and she’s in the throes of puppy love.

That’s basically it. Clint wants revenge and is hanging around Dry Springs waiting for the outlaws to show up. Rachel moons over Clint. Clint feels that women like Rachel are “meant to be protected and cherished,” and even though he knows he cannot afford to be distracted, he continues to hover around her anyway.

It’s amazing I managed to keep my food down.

If Defiant had been better written, I might have been able to overlook the cardboard characters. If the characters were more compelling, I might have been able to overlook the poor writing. Unfortunately, with both strikes against it, Defiant doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Smith’s writing style is all tell and no show. In many cases, it felt like I was reading an outline to the story instead of the actual finished product. Compounding this is the fact that the author likes to head-hop a lot. One moment we’re being told what Rachel thinks, then what Clint thinks, then what one of the outlaws thinks, then what Rachel’s mother thinks, then what the town sheriff thinks and so on. Because of this, the reader feels disconnected from the main couple, thus further handicapping the romance, which isn’t much to brag about as is. One suspects that it is intended to be love at first sight, but it’s even more slipshod than that. Clint saves Rachel; they share some idle chitchat, then poof! They’re in love! They cannot stop thinking about each other!

Adding insult to injury, Rachel reinforces the stereotype for preachers’ daughters. She’s innocent and beautiful on the outside, but once she finds herself alone with Clint she practically throws herself at him. One moment she’s giggling like a schoolgirl and is so sickeningly sweet she gives the reader a toothache, the next she’s an experienced flirt dropping innuendoes. It’s enough to give the reader whiplash. The purple prose certainly doesn’t help matters either with gems such as “They clung to each other as their lips met in a cherishing exchange that showed without words the depth of what they were feeling for one another.”

It’s hard to imagine it getting worse than that, but it does with the ending. The identity of the mastermind behind the Tucker Gang (known simply as The Boss) comes as no shock to anyone with two brain cells to rub together and Rachel blithely puts herself in danger for no credible reason.

I fervently hope that my favorite bookseller is correct and that westerns are on the upswing. Hopefully the rebirth of the sub genre won’t feature more books like this one.

--Wendy Crutcher


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