An Unlikely Outlaw
by Rebecca Wade
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-81021-2
If following the trials and tribulations of an honorable man’s attempts to save a twenty-four-year-old spinster from an unpromising career as an outlaw sounds appealing, you may find Rebecca Wade’s first novel entertaining. An Unlikely Outlaw has an intriguing beginning and an interesting starring cast, but there are long stretches where the storyline loses focus and the supporting characters are underdeveloped.

In the spring of 1875, Jasmine Jamison and her father, Lee, are content living on their Texas ranch. Years before, Lee decided his motherless, ten year-old daughter needed a more stable life than riding with a gang of outlaws. Though Jasmine remembers those as the best years of her life, her father was ready to settle down when they came to Tyler fourteen years ago.

In the “don’t-ask, don’t-tell” atmosphere of post-war Texas, Lee is a highly respected and successful rancher. When the local sheriff escorts Jasmine home, describing her most recent, childish prank, the sheriff admonishes Lee that she needs a husband. Lee has no desire to have the sheriff on his porch steps handing out advice again, so he threatens to send his wayward daughter to one “of those women’s schools back east” if she does not find a husband within a month.

Recognizing that his threat is real, Jasmine decides to find a husband unlikely to stay around following the wedding. Within three weeks she finds her mark. Brody McClintock is a handsome drifter, who may marry her at the point of a gun, but Jasmine is convinced he will desert her at the first opportunity. Leaving clues for her father and forging a seductive note to Brody, Jasmine lures him to a deserted cabin, timing the incident so their tryst will be discovered by her father.

While Jasmine is correct about Brody’s rootless nature, she is incorrect about every other detail. This man personifies honor. Eleven years ago, while he was off riding the range to grieve for a lost love, his parents were murdered. Swearing vengeance and swearing-off women, Brody has been a respected, feared Texas Ranger ever since.

What an irony. Not only has Jasmine married a man so honorable he will stick by marriage vows taken through dishonesty and trickery, Brody is committed to law enforcement. How this lawman turns Jasmine away from her fascination with a life of crime is An Unlikely Outlaw’s raison d’ętre.

Not surprisingly, the only child of a doting dad is selfish and spoiled. What is surprising is how incompetent this twenty-four year-old is at everything -- except riding her horse while shooting at canned fruit. Jasmine’s incompetence isn’t just in the kitchen, but she is unaccustomed to life outdoors, though a significant thread is her life on the trail with her father.

Despite a sympathetic hero, the heroine is a disappointment, although Brody is attracted to the possibility of controlling the fire and passion he sees in her. Jasmine has romanticized the life of an outlaw to a point one would think she gained it from pulp fiction rather than actual experience. One minute she acts like a ninny, the next she is acknowledging her mistakes. Her behavior would be more believable had she been cast as a seventeen-year-old, but not a twenty-four-year-old living on a ranch in Texas in 1875.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast doesn’t pick up the slack, despite Wade’s creating characters, including Brody’s sidekick, who could have been memorable. While An Unlikely Outlaw contains some good writing, enough to encourage me to read Rebecca Wade’s next book, it is too uneven to recommend wholeheartedly.

--Sue Klock

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