Violence against women is always a tough subject to deal with, and I’ve faced more than my fair share. So when a book opens up with “Pain erased all sense of time” I knew I was in for a rough ride. The heroine Lillian Hayes had the misfortune of being engaged to the charming local banker, who absconded with all the town’s gold and money. The townfolk are rightfully outraged, and decide to have someone “ask” Lillian. Since she’s his fiancée she must know. Only she doesn’t. No matter how “persuasive” they try to be, she can’t tell them what she doesn’t know. So they leave her for dead.
Nick Brace is just passing through, on his way to town to sell a man some horses when he sees a woman dangling from a rope over a mine shaft. Outraged at what someone did to a beautiful, helpless woman, he frees her and does what he can to revive her, giving her water and treating her injuries. He’s determined to find out who did this to her and why—and exact a little cowboy justice on the bastards.
This book is a study in human contrasts. Set in the post-Civil War Old West, when the promise of gold could make people do crazy things. You’ve got the best and the worst—greedy people willing to do anything, decent people who allow their anger to justify turning a blind eye, people who think “might makes right” and that the ends justify the means. You’ve also got a hero bent on learning the truth and holding the guilty accountable. You’ve got a heroine who tries to understand—and forgive. This isn’t a pretty satin-and-bows story. This is a gritty, no-holds-barred story that doesn’t flinch from the truth of what humans can be capable of—both tremendous evil and tremendous good.
The issues I had with the book were technical, the formatting and the editing. I’ve personally never been a fan of uber-short dialogue or scenes, bouncing from one character/scene to another to another. It’s popcorn-y and jarring, and never lets me get really into one situation before I’m bounced to another. And there were silly editing errors, like the fact that Nick’s horse is an appaloosa mare named Moonlight (that stuck w/me b/c that’s the name of my daughter’s pony). Now, mares are female for those who don’t know. But there’s a sentence of dialogue when Nick’s teaching Lillian to ride HIS horse where HE says, “The saddle horn or his mane.” What? He forgot his own horse was a girl? The equestrienne in me cringed. Now I know we’ve never seen a “perfect” book; we all catch those little “oops”-es. That one just bugged me, horse geek that I am. (Maybe I’m the only one who noticed.)
Reading is subjective—some people LIKE a fast pace and knowing what everyone’s “up to.” This is a strong story with strong characters that stay with you. It’s not a warm and fuzzy story, but it’s compelling and truthful. I’m glad I read it, and kudos to the author for not taking the easy road.