Reviewed by Piet Bach
250 pp., Smashwords, 2014
Available in paper and e-format from B&N, i-Books, Smashwords, and Amazon
When I read a book by someone whose work is new to me, I’m always interested in learning about him or her, especially if I can find their own stories about themselves. In the case of Merry Farmer, her Web site indicates that she has two degrees in history; she is apparently very interested in the subject, and the current work is one in a series of seven historicals set in Montana around the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th. She also has written a trio of books set in medieval times, and is now turning her gaze to the future, with two science fiction works set to release soon. That’s a pretty good list for someone whose first work, from what I can calculate, came out in 2011.
Ms. Farmer is certainly capable of writing a page-turner set in the last century. In this one, the romance is supplied by the new sheriff in town, Elliott Tucker, who arrives with the luster of his experience with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, a sparkle of mischief in his eyes, a head of unruly curls, and a secret. He’s still on the initial round of howdies when he meets the town’s banker, Phineas Bell. “Phin” has been holding his own secret close to the vest like a good poker hand, but his body betrays him from the first moment he sees Elliott. Among the townsfolk, only Phin’s best friend Michael West, owner of the general store, and his wife Charlotte are aware of Phin’s difference from the rest of the population. It’s their oldest child, an adorable and precocious four-year-old named Eloise, who provides the axis on which the plot revolves.
I’ve never been to Montana. In Ms. Farmer’s hands, the people seem quite independent and certainly hardworking, considering that the town banker lives in a large house with no help and occasionally takes in a boarder, and the owner of the general store, who has other stores, has a wife who works with him all day while caring for three children under the age of six. Neither man could be accused of being poor, I shouldn’t think, but it does seem strange that they don’t have someone to keep their houses for them. Mr. Bell does his own cooking, and is quite talented in the kitchen in Elliott Tucker’s estimation. One has to assume that in between stocking shelves and discussing the merits of the produce with customers, Mrs. West dashes home to wash a few diapers or whip up a meal before running back to the store to watch over things while her husband is away looking at other properties to purchase and develop. Mr. West has an automobile, too, while Mr. Bell gets around by walking and doesn’t even keep a horse to ride. Perhaps they all keep themselves fit by the speed at which they multi-task earning a living, maintaining the kitchen fires, and keeping their homes sparkling clean. Mr. Bell is quite fastidious about his person; one assumes he is equally fastidious about his surroundings.
I was rather surprised by the modern tone of the dialogue, but since Ms. Farmer has those two degrees in history, I bow to her superior knowledge of how people spoke a hundred years ago. I had thought, for instance, that the response “no problems” was a relatively contemporary phrase. It certainly wasn’t used by any members of my family who would have been approximately the age of the characters in the book, but they were small-town Midwesterners, not rugged mountain types. Everyone’s style is different.
My biggest difficulty with the book was the framing of the sexual encounters, or non-encounters in several cases: there is a breathless floridness to the writing that had me frequently checking to reassure myself the writer was old enough to be out after curfew.
I had a smaller difficulty with the tying up of the plot, in that the Federal Agent involved destroyed the evidence he would need to make his case, out of a need for revenge against the criminal he finally apprehended.
But I’ll say again, Ms. Farmer certainly can write a period-piece page-turner.
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