Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review: Promises Keep by Sarah McCarty

Cougar McKinnely is a retired U. S. Marshall and now living in the Wyoming Territory. He is feared not only in his home territory but throughout the Western territories, often referred to as Gut'm McKinnely. He is of Native American extraction, adopted by Doc and Dorothy McKinnely after being thrown out of his home and living on the streets at the age of 13. He is a man wracked with guilt after the death of his fiance a year previously, and finds that he can no longer "perform" with the ladies. Thus he now visits Madame Cecile's Pleasure Emporium, hoping that 1) he won't be seen by anyone he knows, and 2) that one of the "ladies of the night" will be able to assist him in this personal "break through."

It is here that he encounters Mara Kincaid, a young innocent woman who has been sold to the brothel by her father to pay his gambling debts and who was to have been "auctioned" off by Madame Cecile. She is given to Cougar instead for a fairly hefty payment, and he has his way with her, only finding out, after the fact, that she is still a virgin and that she has been drugged. She comes out of her stupor sufficiently to plunge a daggar into Madame Cecile's throat, and Cougar takes down the madam's bodyguard, then absconding with Mara out of the window. However, her reputation is forever ruined, and even though she is unwilling to enter into any long-term relationship, being fiercly independent, she ends up married to Cougar. Unbeknownst to Mara, Cougar has fallen hopelessly in love with her.

This story is hard to read in some ways as it is very open about the social abuses and prejudices that seeminly good people heap on the underdog, especially women who have few if any options when abused or misused by men. In the Wyoming Territory of 1869, women had literally no legal standing and were the property of either their fathers, brothers, or husbands. They could be bought or sold as hookers or as wives or daughters. Thus this is a story of such a society and the pain it brought to a good woman like Mara. It is also the second in a series that brings some very delightful characters into being, full of wit and wisdom, of loyalty and generosity, and willingness to accept people who live on the fringes. There are some genuinely funny people here, and it is a novel that embraces all that made the Old West what it was--both good and bad--and I think helps readers understand that the territories of that time were not the romantic localities often extolled in musicals and movies. Life was hard and often short. Cougar, along with his adoped parents, his cousin Clint, his loyal friend Asa, his friend and sometimes adversary Rev. Swanson, together with a cadre of gutsy women and a few stalwart men, form the backdrop of this story that is full of tentative emotion, goodness, hope, hurt, loss, and betrayal. No reader of this story could possibly be bored.

I like Sarah McCarty's writing and the storylines of her books. She doesn't back away from the realities of that historical period while spinning a tale of romance and budding marital encounters that have the stamp of authenticity on them. These are characters and situations that smack of the real thing. And because of that, readers like me have real reactions to their successes and failures, their gains and losses. Hopefully, for those who have not read this book, you will do so at some time in the future. It is a very good book and one that is not only entertaining but educational, feeding the mind, the heart, and the libido. I give this book a rating of 4.50 out of 5.

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