Posted in: willaful reviews
Tags:Contemporary Romance, Kathleen Eagle, multicultural romance reviews, RITA winner
This RITA winning romance from 1992 has some serious meat on its bones, and as always, Eagle manages to make hard, complicated themes utterly enthralling to read.
Rodeo star Cleve Black Horse is on trial for first degree murder, with a lawyer who believes he’s guilty and a jury nothing like his peers. His faith is pinned on one juror, a white woman he can tell believes his story — but he winds up convicted anyway.
Fate seems determine to intertwine Cleve’s life with that of the juror, Susan. She’s the nurse in the emergency room one night when Cleve is stabbed by another prisoner. And that same night, Susan falls in love with an infant boy prematurely taken from his dead mother — a baby that may be Cleve’s. Susan can’t get permission to adopt an Indian child, so she desperately approaches Cleve in prison, despite knowing he has good reason to hate her.
This was such a vivid, compelling story, especially the first half. Even pretty much knowing how it would end, I was fascinated by Cleve’s trial. Eagle skillfully shows how culture clashes and racism are working against Cleve; at one point, the prosecutor make a big deal about Cleve taking his saddle with him when leaving the murder scene, while to Cleve, the saddle is so much a part of his identity, he can’t even find the words to explain it. His incompetent lawyer never picks up on this to help him, but we learn more later when Cleve tells Susan, “You know what being a cowboy mean to me? It meant not being an Indian. I mean, when I was winning, you know? When I was the man to beat. I didn’t have to be an Indian every time anybody looked at me.”
The writing is honest and unsparing. Ugly things happen, and they often have ugly consequences. But both Cleve and Susan are good people who’ve made mistakes, and their essential warmth and humanity and growing feelings for each other keep the story from getting bleak. Not everything gets wrapped up neatly at the end but Susan and Cleve wind up right where they belong, together.
Although I didn’t find the second half as riveting as the first, this was such an extraordinary novel I have to give it 5 stars. You can buy it from Amazon here (and as of this writing it’s only $1.99 for Kindle, but I’m not sure how long that will last.)
Originally published by Avon. Reprint published by Bell Bridge Books. Review copy from NetGalley.