1998, Frontier/Western Hist Romance (1870s New Mexico)
Pocket, $7.50, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0553575015
Nobody's Darling is not like any other western I’ve read in the past (which isn’t saying much). It is a delightfully funny book whose author boldly uses every western cliché known and does it well. At least in parts one and two. Part three is another story, however, and it is there that this book heads south.
Miss Esmerelda Fine is a woman who takes life seriously. After her parents died, she had to raise her brother, Bartholomew, by earning money teaching music lessons. She learned responsibility and sacrifice at an early age. When she finally manages to scrape up enough extra cash for her brother to go to college, he instead takes that money and heads out west to experience life to the fullest, so he can become a writer of adventure novels. Esmerelda attempts to hire a Pinkerton to find her brother, but when she learns Bartholomew is dead from an unscrupulous ex-Pinkerton, she decides to head west to bring the man who killed her brother to justice. What she finds when she gets there is that her brother may be alive, and Billy Darling, the man who was supposed to have killed him, is the best tracker in the known western world. So she hires him by offering to give him what she has left – her innocence. No big surprises here.
Although Billy has a reputation as one mean hombre, he actually has a heart of gold. No surprise there either. Billy is hired by a US Marshal to track down Bartholomew, who is now going by the name of "Black Bart" (did I mention cliché’s?). While Esmerelda thinks Billy is a villain, Billy thinks Esmerelda is pretending to be Black Bart’s sister, and instead is his woman of ill repute. Even though Billy thinks Esmerelda is deceiving him, he still can’t help but fall in love with her. Billy and Esmerelda, with the help of Billy’s brothers, the notorious Darling Gang, find Bart, find out the truth about one another, and return the gold Bart stole with the help of his partner, a US Marshal gone bad. This Marshal turns out to be the same US Marshal that hired Billy to find Bart in the first place. As Black Bart heads off to parts unknown, Billy is left to handle this US Marshal, the true villain.
I mentioned clichés, and this book is stuffed full of them. There were Commancheros, Desperados, and whores galore. I read Esmerelda described as a "purdy little thing" numerous times. There was even mention of "gewgaws." It was perfect – every chapter a delight. Every character fit perfectly, from Esmerelda’s cherubic-cheeked little brother as Black Bart, to the Darling Gang, who took such pride in their lives of crime and caused Billy a huge amount of embarrassment, to some other wonderful secondary characters.
The heroine and the hero are perfect western characters – Esmerelda, who is feisty and innocent, and Billy, who is jaded and yet honest. They are hot together – the attraction between them built up constantly, and the consummation of their relationship is very steamy.
The book would have been almost perfect if not for part three. The author uses a plot device that I have always found irritating. Billy decides that he knows what is best for Esmerelda, so he gives her the big, heart-breaking brush-off. Esmerelda shows just how dignified she really is by holding her head high, and with a few parting shots, heads to London with her grandfather. I have a few problems with this development. First, the grandfather walks into Billy’s room and finds his granddaughter dressed in nothing but a blanket. Her grandfather is a tough bird – Billy at that moment would have been told to choose marriage or death if the grandfather had stayed in character. Second, the whole London part of the book had both Billy and Esmerelda behaving out of character. Esmerelda kept doing things that were ridiculous, for no apparent reason.
Teresa Medeiros has a knack for taking the same old stuff and bringing it together in a tongue-in-cheek fashion that just works. There was a passage at the end of part two that was written in such a way that I swear I heard the theme music from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. If she had stopped at part two, this book would have been a perfect read for an afternoon when a bit of cheering up was needed.
-- Rebecca Ekmark
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