Smoke Eyes
by Maureen Reynolds, historical (1992)
Bantam, $4.99, ISBN 0-553-29501-2


What happened to this author anyway? Romantic Times called her "a very new HOT writer" (among other things). Please don't tell me she is to that magazine what Gretchen Mol is to Vanity Fair. Smoke Eyes while boasting two fairly competent leads is a bland though readable story. It creates some interesting emotional conflicts, but pay-off never comes. The end result is a flat story with little emotional resonance.

But it's nice to read of a capable heroine who doesn't get into trouble though. Katherine Flynn is like a 19th century Dr Quinn working and saving lives in Newberry and beyond, Colorado. A gruesome double murder in the local brothel leads to the very brief incarceration (think: a few hours) of a wrong guy, Zach Fletcher, whom Kate defends against the sheriff. Zach and Kate go way back, when they were kids and were good buddies in scamps and all, until Zach went off to make his way and Kate went off to make hers. Now he wants her to help save his son.

In case you're wondering about the murder thing, I'm also wondering. That silly thing pretty much evaporates from the story, leaving me puzzled as to why it is even introduced in the story in the first place.

This book sure know how to miss opportunities. Zach's negligent treatment of his son and the mother of the boy is criminal, and his trying to make amends now is pretty much a case of too late, too bad. The mother is dead and the son is pretty much close to croaking. (Of course, Kate will save the son, don't worry, people.) But apart from a few token remarks about failing the son (never the woman, I notice), Zach remains disconcertingly remorse-free, and the greatest emotional turmoil he has in this story is not whether his son will live or not, but whether he dares to tell Kate he loves her. Excuse me? Let's not insult me by telling me that the hero's greatest emotional obstacle in this instance is his commitment-phobia, please.

I know this is a romance novel and sexually attractive women other than the heroines are sluts condemned to permanent oblivion, but in this case, the mother of the son deserved so much better (a good grovel will be nice), and same with the son. If Kate can gently chastise a local married man for visiting a brothel, where is her outrage at the way Zach treated that woman and his son?

This book also brings up Kate's personal insecurities about her Arapaho heritage, but it never actually develops that aspect of Kate. This is a a pity as it will have given Kate some depths beyond her Ultra Caring Super Doctor persona.

But where this book excels wonderfully is the chemistry between Kate and Zach. The author manages to show the sweet progression from friendship to love between those two, and the love scenes are sweet and luscious all at once. Thank you to the author as well for refraining from making the Sick Dying Boy plot device from overpowering the story with fake muzak moments. The emotional bond between these people feel real, unforced, and a pleasure to read.

But because the book also sidesteps difficult emotional issues that it itself brings up or wraps the resolutions up in a neat parcel, it also feels contrived and fake at the same time. Ultimately I feel rather frustrated because this book promises to be a meaty read, presents some really nice and likeable characters and a love story that's nice to read, but stops short of fully delivering. Smoke Eyes - which is Kate's Arapaho name, by the way - is a nice and pleasant read, but it's also a case of the author making the main characters falling in love too easy. This story has everything but the final emotional punch that could've elevated it from being a nice read to something more substantial.

Rating: 83


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