Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review: Promises Linger by Sarah McCarty

Allow me to say right off the bat that I am an avowed Sarah McCarty fan. I just like everything she writes! I think I tend to be seduced by those writers that seem to be able to write with the "big picture" in mind, and even if they struggle with that concept during the creation of their novels, they sure don't give the reader that impression.

Promises Linger
in the first in a series of novels that Ms McCarty wrote about the old West. The main story line involves the saving of the Rocking C ranch by Elizabeth Coyote, a young woman in her early 20's who has been left alone after her dad's death and who now faces losing that huge property unless she can find someone to help her save her legacy. Initially we find her in the town saloon . . . verbally shucking her first husband because after only a day or two he has shown his true colors--abusive, unloving, wanting the ranch only as a grub stake for his gambling. No way is our Miss Coyote going to tolerate that, and since the territory only recognizes these "common law" marriages as long as both parties remain in the relationship willingly, she is "divorcing" this man. Almost before anyone realizes it, she is "interviewing" Asa McIntyre who was sitting quietly at the bar, a man with some notoriety as a cowboy-for-hire, and at times even as a gunslinger, but a man who is also known as one who keeps his word and has a certain respect and sense of honor, even among the toughest of the tough. After a short exchange of assurances--he will never hurt her, she will obey him--they agree to the match and they start out for the next town where the judge performs the ceremony. No "common law" arrangement for Mr. McIntyre.

The conflict in this story is built on two situations: 1) the uneasy relationship between Elizabeth and Asa as they try to begin to "rub along" together in this thing called a marriage; 2) the ongoing problems with rustlers, injuries, small accidents, etc. that have been siphoning off the ranch's resources. The reader is really kept in some suspense as to how this marriage is going to work out--can these two people make a life together, especially with Elizabeth's independent spirit up against Asa's very real sense of how men and women approach the "division of labor" in the society of these day. It is not an unusual kind of dynamic--it is one that often surfaces in romance novels of that period and the resentment many women hid in their hearts over society's suppression of their greater gifts. But Ms McCarty has crafted two characters that are people of purpose, depth, thinkers, and people who feel deeply and who have the capacity to love deeply. Both want to make a home and a sense of place for themselves and both want a future that embraces a family and hopefully, children to fulfill their lives. This is especially true for Asa who began life as the son of a New Orleans whore, who was beaten daily almost from his youngest years by an unstable mother who saw on him "the mark of the devil" and who has longed for a home and the presence of "a lady" in his life. He finally sees that possibility in this alliance with Elizabeth.

The second area of conflict is over the future of the ranch and here we have a true mystery. In the midst of this comes characters that will be more fully explored in subsequent novels but in Ms McCarty's unique way they will tromp through all these novels as all are integral to all the situations and the lives of one another. Who is behind the slow but insidious reduction of the life of this enterprise? Is it some unknown person or group? Is it Elizabeth's neighbor and closest friend who was her father's partner and with whom she grew up? He stands to gain the most. Elizabeth doesn't believe it; Asa is not so sure. So the questions and the illusive solution to this mystery flow as an undercurrent to the obvious story of Asa and Elizabeth. Some of the questions are not answered until almost the last page. McCarty keeps us all on the edges of our chairs until almost the last minute. Very good writers tend to do that.

Finally, as a historical piece this is a part of American life that is not often explored. We know about the cattle drives and the expansion of the states and the growth of the railroad West. But how all those aspects of social growth affect individual families is a subject that holds unending delight for historical romance readers. A number of current authors are writing what is know as "cowboy romance" but I think this is not just the cowboy thing. I think this is again the exploration of the ways of men and women caught in very difficult circumstances, with few social "safety nets" and almost none of the "finer things in life" that were often enjoyed by Americans in the Eastern United States. Life was indeed hard, and relationships even harder. A bad harvest, a stray bullet, a renegade outlaw gang, the untimely death of a provider--all were almost the kiss of death. Yet in the midst of all that was caring, authentic loving and the growth of human connections that somehow managed to survive the worst of the worst.

I know these stories have been around now for several years, but they are worth reading and re-reading. Well written, engaging the mind and emotions, they are the best stuff of which historical romance fiction is made. I highly recommend this book and all the series as worthy of one's time and investment of energy.
I give this novel a rating of 4.75 out of 5.


Jill D. said...

Oh man, I remember when reading this book, my first McCarthy by-the-way, and being just amazed! This book was steamy hot and had strong characters. It was a keeper for me :)

Jill D. said...

Crap. I meant McCarty :)

Tracy said...

Great review! I really need to read the last book. I know I lent it to you but when you're done... :)