Broken Blossoms
by Pam Crooks, historical (2003)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5176-1


I've always thought that Pam Crooks may turn out to be one of the better authors of action-driven Western romance novels, given time. Her last few books are pretty good. Broken Blossoms suffers however from an over-the-top villain and a plot that seems designed specially to entrap and victimize the heroine.

Trig Mathison's brother is fatally shot during a skirmish in an opium den that Trig more or less initiated in an attempt to retrieve his addict brother and bring him home. He is thrown into jail for this. The judge Reginald P Chandler offers him a chance for freedom if Trig can find and bring back the judge's runaway daughter Carleigh (what happened to pretty names like Josephine and Michelle?). So Trig's plan is now this: go get the daughter, drag her home, and then take his estranged ailing daddy to somewhere else where he and Daddy can start a new life. Or something.

Carleigh is a sheltered young girl who has been living under her father's tight control all her life. She's actually a bastard, but the story of how she ends up with her father is a story of cackling villainy and over-the-top dastardy, so let's just leave it at that. She is looking for her mother who is dying. Furious with her father for keeping her mother's existence from her, she's on the run to meet Mommy. Unlike other potential braindead virgins on the loose in a typical Western novel, she doesn't up in some brothel while mistaking it as a boarding house, so don't worry, folks. Carleigh is naive, but the author does a nice job with her: if she has a chance, Carleigh will no doubt learn to take care of herself. She does some things that aren't smart, but she displays a keen intellect that, in a different story, will no doubt be put to good use.

Unfortunately, she is tricked by rude hotel clerks into waiting for a room in a hotel that never existed. The hero pretty much forces her to share his room under false pretenses, and this culminates in a love scene that makes me feel ill. She's willing, but do bear in mind that she's also lost, alone, and without any streetwise knowledge. This love scene has exploitation and victimization stamped all over the stained sheets of the bed. Carleigh is intelligent enough to know that her infatuation with Ty is just that: an infatuation. She's sharp, this young lady. Unfortunately, Trig pretty much dominates and drags her along all over the place, and she, lost and never getting a chance to equilibrate herself to her surroundings, has to pretty much follow.

The cards are all held by Trig, so to speak. Trig, alas, is a hero that rarely deviates from the "misunderstood noble cowboy forced to do bad things" mould: alpha, crude, and obnoxiously selfish in his self pity party. It was late in the story when he finally unbends, but by then, the story has given him too much power over the heroine. Carleigh does grow and get a clue, but I end up feeling sorry for her. Throughout most of the story, she is stuck in a plot that seems designed to hinder her character growth. That fact that she develops as a character despite the author throwing her into trouble again often is something to be marveled at.

A too-convenient closure to everyone's problems ends this story.

Broken Blossoms is a very readable book - the writing is smooth (although the book contains several very glaring spelling mistakes) and the story moves at a good pace. In the end though, I can't help feeling that Carleigh Chandler deserves better than being trapped in this book with her stereotypical hero, father, and plot.

Rating: 78


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