Jezebel's Sister
by Emily Carmichael, historical (2001)
Jove, $6.50, ISBN 0-515-12996-8

Class, here's today's lesson in Western Clichés 101. The topic is bordellos. When a heroine somehow comes into contact with a brothel, there's only one kind of brothel. It's a brothel populated by the following accessories: (a) the jaded but skillful madame, (b) the French tart with the heart of gold, (c) the proud slut who actually enjoys the sex - she will come to a bad end, and (d) the bitter dark-skinned Black tart who will fall in love with the hero's best friend or (e) the protective piano man (though in this story, it's the ex-slave buddy of the hero).

I can use Jezebel's Sister as today's textbook. I can also use it as a textbook on why goody woody to the point of brainy-woody heroines make lousy romance novel lead material, especially when her naughtier sister is so much more interesting. Jezebel's Sister starts off with a great hanging scene and falls into coma soon after the prologue.

Nathan Stone, an ex-Confederate soldier, has fallen on hard times and in bad crowd. When a miracle has him escaping hanging, he decides to start life anew as a good man. When he finds the body of a preacher, here's his chance. As "Homer Pernell", he will lead a wagon band all across the untamed west to good ol' Oregon. In the wagon band, however, is Cassidy Rose McAllister, her sister Lila, and Lila's recently disbanded brothel crew. Not that Cass is a prostitute - she's actually the unhappy sister of the brothel madame Lila. She doesn't know that Pernell is the very scum she helped capture in the epilogue, and hence becomes attracted to this smooth-tongued preacher.

Bad enough that the characters are all dull stereotypes. Cass is the type of heroine who refuses to touch a gun and leaves it - unloaded - at the back of a wagon, even after the Tart Who Loves Sex And Is Hence Evil has been scalped by Indians. She reluctantly takes up shooting, but that's only because Nathan/Homer's hands will be clasping her waist. Cass is Proper, she wouldn't unbend, she wouldn't let her hair down... zzzzz. Lila, on the other hand, can shoot well, she can do things Cass can only simper and ask Nathan/Homer to do for her, and she probably has all sorts of inner demons that will make a great romance story. But Lila ends up barely a secondary character in this story. All I get is Cass the Wuss and her Wild Wild PMS Adventure. This is definitely a case of playing it safe at the cost of interesting storytelling.

And Nathan can be charming, but his relationship with the singularly uninteresting Cass causes him to be just as dull by osmosis. As the predictable pair of Rogue and Ms Starchy Knickers blah blah blah their way to the predictable conclusion, I can't help thinking that, in this case, this story doesn't even know what to do with the potential gem it has (Lila). Intent on highlighting Puritanical Virtues (or maybe it just wants to play safe), Jezebel's Sister shoots itself in the foot from the get-go.

The cover with that woman in lacy stockings puzzles me. Either that's Lila or someone has managed to trick prim and starchy Cass into taking some marijuana to get her to pose like that. Good gals like Cass probably have to bathe with a hair suit on. How dull.

Rating: 62

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