by Julianne MacLean, historical (2001)
Harlequin Historical, $4.99, ISBN 0-373-29164-7
US Marshal Fletcher Collins's life is entangled with Jo O'Malley's when he stops her from shooting down a storekeeper. Turns out that O'Malley here is on the vengeance warpath to destroy the man, Zeb Stone, whom she believes framed her late husband to the gallows and is now planning no good on her son Leo. Fletcher is roped into the fun. Jo is dressed as a man, but Fletcher will unmask her soon enough.
Thing is, the notion of Jo taking the law into her own hands is just plain laughable. From page one, she is a bag of raw nerves - "I can't do it! I can't shoot him! Oh, oh, oh!" - and more often than not, her insistence on running the show irritates me no end. Nothing more annoying than an incompetent twit insisting that yes, she is smart, she is brainy, she is capable. Please, sit in the corner and don't make any noise.
Fletcher is a typical hero, heavy-handed at times, other times more patient with our heroine than Jo O'Twitty deserves. The action subplot isn't much either. Fletcher and Jo have some chemistry, but it's more of a Daddy-figure-protecting-that-twit type of chemistry. And as the author piles more and more trials and tribulations until the plot is like the Maze of Cretes itself, Jo gets more and more worried and her mental hysteria reaches a fevered pitch until I'm sure a blood vessel in my head will explode.
Really, labyrinthine plot and action overkill at the expense of characters aside, the heroine is an incompetent deadweight. This story could have been redeemed if Fletcher has made that woman stay at home and keep the home fires burning while he does all the manly work. A bit Neanderthal, what I'm proposing, but not more Neanderthal than an annoying heroine who needs rescuing again and again from the troubles she herself raised.
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