Crooked Hearts(digital re-release; original release 1994)
By Patricia Gaffney
Publisher: Open Road
Release Date: December 13, 2011
Imagine a book opening with a nun readjusting the gun she has hidden in her garter, unaware that the blind man who is sitting opposite her in the stagecoach is not truly blind but a con-artist who can see quite well when she lifts her skirt. You know from the beginning that this is not your typical romance. And each scene that follows confirms that knowledge.
Of course, the nun is not really a nun. She’s Grace Russell, a grifter who has assumed the identity of Sister Mary Augustine in order to con tender-hearted gulls out of money they think they’re contributing to a deserving, divinely blessed charity for African orphans. It takes Grace a while to realize how much she has in common with Reuben Jones who is presenting himself to the world as a blind Spanish scholar, although he sees more than most, is not Spanish, and is a scholar only of confidence tricks. Before Grace’s anger at being deceived has run its course, the stagecoach is attacked by a Chinese gang, and Reuben, somewhat reluctantly, comes to her aid. Their covers broken and their ill-gotten gains stolen, they escape on horseback before the authorities show up to ask uncomfortable questions, ending up at Reuben’s apartment in San Francisco with a Ming figurine in hand.
Their adventures are just beginning. Reuben has men pursuing him who are very interested in a certain $4,500. Grace is desperate to save the farm and a dear family member. Then there’s the matter of the mysterious Ming. The two bicker their way to a decision to team up to achieve their goals, and the attraction they have been denying builds into something for which neither of them is prepared. Dishonesty and distrust are ingrained habits with both of them, but when danger threatens, they must learn to trust one another and work together.
Set in California in the 1880s, Crooked Hearts is a Western/Frontier novel that is reminiscent of the black and white screwball comedies of the 1930s with their rapid dialogue, fast pace, elements of farce, class issues, and eventual triumph of love. It’s not an expected combination, but in Gaffney’s capable hands, it works wonderfully. Despite their “profession,” Grace and Reuben are irresistible characters who have a kind of courage and even goodness. In creating them, Gaffney is gently mocking the stereotypes (and remember this book was written more than fifteen years ago). Grace is no virginal miss ignorant of men. Without being the “kickass heroine” who is familiar in 2012, she is independent and lusty. Reuben is no noble knight adept with weapons and fearless in a crisis. In fact, he’s afraid of knives.
There are some great love scenes, filled with humor, sweetness, and plenty of sizzle, and they take place between two people who become friends and partners as well as lovers. I had forgotten what a delight this book is. Reading it again makes me grateful for all the romance classics that are becoming newly available in e-editions. I highly recommend it.
Open Road has also recently reissued another five of Gaffney’s historical romances as e-books: Fortune’s Lady, Another Eden, Sweet Everlasting, Lily, and Outlaw in Paradise. Others that will likely be reissued later include Sweet Treason, Thief of Hearts, Wild at Heart and the Wyckerley trilogy: To Love and to Cherish, To Have and to Hold and Forever and Ever.
Have you read any of Patricia Gaffney’s books? Have you discovered any old favorites reissued as ebooks?