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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Plenty of Action -- Just Not What I Expected!

By Jennifer Zane
  • 357 pages
  • ISBN: 1490331220
  • Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
The Amazon summary for The Lady and the Lawman made it sound like a rock-em-sock-em western novel with plenty of action holding together a traditional romance. 

The story, which focuses on runaway bride Margaret Atwater, seems to offer just that: "Outlaws are trying to kill her.  The brothel owner wants her back. And a man from her past is willing to do anything to reclaim what he lost. Will bullets and brawn be enough to save her?"

The book was written by Jennifer Zane, the author of the Gnome Romance series. I'd just published my own western adventure (Tamer: An Amos Kuttner Novel, also available at Amazon) and was interested to see how a woman handled the genre, so I bought Zane's novel largely on a whim.

Jennifer Zane, author of The Lady and the Lawman

Unfortunately, The Lady and the Lawman turned out to be a disappointment. The action sequences, which are brief and not terribly convincing, occur at the beginning and toward the end of the book, and the core of the novel deals with the evolution of the uneasy relationship between Atwater and the lawman of the title, Sheriff Grant Masterson, a hunk that Atwater finds breathtakingly attractive in a physical sense, but whose moodiness and hot temper frighten her.

In summary, the story sounds promising. The novel, which is set in Colorado in 1878, opens with Atwater on a stage coach bound for San Francisco, fleeing from a bloodless engagement to a man she fears intends to kill her for her money after they are wed. Her escape is foiled when a pair of bloodletters rob the stage, killing everyone on board but Margaret. 

One of the bandits kills the other so he can rape the woman, but she fends off his attack. To punish her for her resistance, the bandit sells her to the owner of a saloon and brothel in the nearest town.

Through a quirk, Margaret becomes the prize in a poker game between the brothel owner, town sheriff Masterson and his long-time rival, Dalton. The sheriff wins the woman, but learns of her plight when he takes her to her room for a sexual encounter.

After she is kidnapped twice, almost drowned in a wild river and nearly killed by a sniper firing from the second floor of the whorehouse, Margaret emerges triumphant, safely wed to her lawman lover and free to claim her sizable inheritance back in Philadelphia if she chooses.

The book is a very quick read in part because large sections are devoted to heavy-breathing clinches between the hero and heroine that are never actually consummated. It is clear that Zane knows how to grind out a story, but her complicated plot is really the best part of her book: her dialog is rather flat and stilted, anachronistic phrases slip into her characters' speeches, and only Atwater and Masterson really come to life as multi-dimensional human beings in this 353-page tale.

Too me, the biggest flaw in the book is its failure to offer much in the way of excitement: Zane doesn't make us feel that her hero and heroine are ever in serious danger and the novel's two villains, wealthy and unscrupulous Robert Dalton and Margaret's murderous fiance, William Grant fail to generate much real menace. Worse yet, the book's  denouement can be seen coming more than 50 pages before it occurs, a fact that virtually eliminates the possibility of catharsis.

These are significant problems for a book that is being marketed as a romantic thriller. The Lady and the Lawman has plenty of romance, but the thrills it offers are few and far between.

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