Once An Outlaw
by Jill Gregory, historical (2001)
Dell, $6.50, ISBN 0-440-23549-9


Emily Spoon is trying to start a new life for her family. It's not easy - for a long time the Spoon name is synonymous with mean, bad outlaws. Emily hopes that their new ranch at Forlorn Valley will be a start.

Unfortunately, the local sheriff Clint Barclay is looking for any excuse to drive the Spoons out. He doesn't want trouble, no siree, and he will get the trash out of his lovely town of bigots, drunkards, and rapists. Soon, however, Clint and Emily will have this thing going that will test their initial distrust of each other.

That's basically it, the plot. Clint starts out a complete jackass, and I howl for his blood as he deliberately blames Emily's brother for a brawl in a pub and then uses the opportunity to jail that boy and impose a heavy fine out of spite. Emily is a very good heroine who stands up to this bastard, which is why the initial attraction thing doesn't ring real. Emily is not all bluster, she has weak moments that make her human, but she dang well will fight for her family.

Indeed, the Spoons' loyalty to each other is just great to read. I do have quibbles about Clint's acceptance of Emily and the Spoons eventually though. It basically happens after Emily tells a sad sob story filled with Grief and Martyrdom. It is as if the author is saying that second chances and forgiveness come only if you do bad things out of some Sad Misunderstood Kiddiehood thingie. How about genuine remorse and repentance?

Clint however shapes up very well by the second half of the story, and he becomes a hero I can root for. By this point, he and Emily seem right together, never mind the awkward beginning of their relationship. There's chemistry now, hurray, and some nice emotional scenes too.

But then I start to have another annoying quibble: Clint is one of the most incompetent sheriffs I ever have the misfortune to read about. He knows there's this Bad Guy who tries to rape Emily again and again, but he lets this guy walk the streets after each incident every time! This ridiculous plot misfire has one purpose, of course - a grand finale where our heroine faces Great Danger and needs Grand Rescuing, et cetera, but come on, there's no need for such glaringly transparent and inane plot contrivance, is there?

Once An Outlaw has a great hero redemption thing and a strong and intelligent heroine. The supporting cast is great too, and the romance has some emotional resonance to it. Too bad about the plot contrivances that don't make much sense.

Rating: 82


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