The Last Good Man
By Kathleen Eagle
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Release Date: May 1, 2012 (reissue of 2000 release)
Savannah Stephens couldn’t wait to leave Sunbonnet, Wyoming, for a larger, more sophisticated world, and her beauty and ambition earned her the success of which she’d dreamed. But now her years as a famous lingerie model are behind her, her money is gone, and Savannah’s options have narrowed to one. She has returned to Sunbonnet and the aunt who raised her after Savannah’s mother died of breast cancer. Savannah is recovering from the same disease. The scars reconstructive surgery left on her body are less significant than the wounds to her spirit. Savannah’s sense of worth was based on her face and her body. The changes in her body make her feel as if she has lost what made her, and she’s spiraling deeper into depression now that she’s back in Sunbonnet where her aunt can help care for Claudia, the six-year-old daughter whom Savannah feels is the only thing of value left in her life.
Clay Keogh has been in love with Savannah since they were kids tagging after his older half-brother, Kole Kills Crow, a Native American activist and suspected terrorist and murderer who has been on the run for years. Clay knew that the young Savannah had a crush on Kole, but he’s not prepared to see his brother’s features stamped on the face of a precocious six-year-old. But Clay loves his brother, and it only takes a few minutes for the child to earn her own place in his heart, a large part of which her mother already owns. It is Clay who refuses to let Savannah stay in hiding. Although their first reunion takes place under cover of darkness in an old haunt of theirs, Clay pushes Savannah back into the light. It is he who insists she see a doctor for follow-up care. He marries her, accepting her conditions, so that he can take care of her at his ranch, the Lazy K. But Savannah will not allow Clay to touch her scars, those on her body or those in her heart, and Clay is convinced that Savannah will leave Sunbonnet, the Lazy K, and him as soon as she is healthy.
Kathleen Eagle is a superb storyteller who creates compelling, complex characters, and The Last Good Man is one of her best books. It has lost none of its power in the dozen years since it was first published. Eagle’s gift for characterization can be seen in the secondary characters such as Clay’s mother, his ex-wife, Savannah’s aunt, and Savannah’s hairdresser friend—credible mixes of strengths and weaknesses with pieces of the lives that make them who they are revealed. Even characters who never actually appear in the book such as Kole Kills Crow and Savannah’s New York friend Heather emerge as real, believable personalities. Claudia may seem improbably mature to some readers, but anyone who has ever watched a small child of a single parent caught in physical or mental illness will recognize the fierce protectiveness and caretaking that can become part of the child’s nature.
Clay is wonderful, one of my all-time favorite heroes. Hardworking, competent, sexy, and nurturing with an always tender touch for the wounded and needy, human or animal, he is the man the title evokes. But he is no impossible dream. He can be angry and impatient, he can make foolish choices, and he can find it difficult to articulate his feelings. Eagle reveals enough about his past for the reader to understand that his need to take care of others is an essential and innate part of the person Clay is. Like many natural givers, Clay must learn to accept the gifts of others.
Savannah, despite her illness, is a difficult character to like for the first part of the book. She is totally self-absorbed, even to the point of avoiding her responsibilities to her child. But as the reader learns more about her and realizes why appearance is so important to her, why the changes cancer surgery have wrought in her body have so devastated her, and why she is convinced that she holds death within her, she becomes more sympathetic. Watching her grow and take responsibility for herself and others becomes a joy.
Kathleen Eagle is a gifted, intelligent writer. I highly recommend her books. If you are an Eagle fan, you know her books are definitely worth a reread. If you’ve never read her, The Last Good Man is a great place to start. I suggest you also look for You Never Can Tell, the story of Kole Kills Crow and Savannah’s friend, New York journalist Heather Reardon, which Bell Bridge Books also plans to reissue. And I’m hoping for reissues including electronic editions of my favorites by Eagle—Reason to Believe and What the Heart Knows.
What’s the last book you reread? What golden oldies would you most like to see reissued?
The Last Good Man is available for free download May 17 and 18 at Amazon.