SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for May: Her Cowboy Defender

by Sunita

I wasn’t sure I’d get this month’s book read, let alone post a review on it on time. But I’m just under the wire. This month’s challenge book is from an author with more than one novel on my TBR. Needless to say, I have lots of those available. I chose this Harlequin Intrigue release from 2012 because I’d really liked an earlier book by Connor and as a result I’d bought a few more. I wish I could say that it lived up to my hopes, but I can’t.

Piper Lowry is an accountant in Boston who finds her predictable life upended when her younger sister Tara is kidnapped and her twin, Pam, who is an FBI agent, winds up in a coma after an accident. The two events are related. Piper heads off to New Mexico to try and rescue her sister and meets rancher Cade McClain when she demands, at gunpoint, that he drive her to her rendezvous with the kidnappers. Cade is angry (who wouldn’t be?) but then won over by Piper’s story (yes, really) and decides to help her rescue Tara, who is conveniently being held at the ranch adjoining Cade’s.

The entire novel takes place in a 48-hour period and in that time and category page count Connor has to introduce characters and plot, work through several storylines, and bring about an HEA for Cade and Piper. It isn’t enough. The characters are strangers when they meet and they spend the first 24 hours organizing a rescue. Most of the narrative is taken up with introducing the characters and the plot, to the great detriment of the setting. This is technically set in New Mexico but there is nothing to make the reader realize that. The bulk of the story takes place on Cade’s ranch or adjacent to it, but we never even find out what he does on his ranch (except for a lot of paperwork). Is it a cattle ranch? Sheep? Alpacas? Llamas? Donkeys? (I’ve seen all of those in NM, I think.) Who knows. Not only do we not know what this huge ranch is for, apparently Cade can send off the ranch hands and the cook-housekeeper without missing a beat. Maybe he’s just growing sagebrush and cactus.

The actual plot is a thriller/suspense rather than a mystery, so we find out who the villains are (there are two separate ones) fairly early on. Of course one villain is a Mexican crime lord, and of course he and his underlings are the only non-white characters in the story, despite this being set in New Mexico. A caveat: Cade’s BFF and head ranch hand is named Alvarez, so he could be Latino, but we don’t learn anything about him so who knows what his ethnicity is. So glad to see excellent non-white representation here. Oh, and Castillo’s motive is vengeance. So hot-bloodedly Latin. The other villain is described in a way that made me think of Will Patton in No Way Out. Unlike Castillo the Crime Lord, we don’t read from Will Patton Mark II’s POV, so we don’t get much idea of what is motivating him until the very end, when some dialogue As-You-Know-Bob’s it for us.

And oh yes, the romance. We’re clearly supposed to see Piper as a Strong Woman, and she does do a lot of the action stuff, but my goodness she makes some stupid decisions. Good thing the Crime Lord’s henchmen are even stupider. There so much going on, none of it believable, and yet we’re told Cade and Piper fall for each other hard enough to create an HEA. Yeah, right. They have one strange sex scene in which they spend as much time talking about Cade’s ex (he’s embittered of course, because she was awful, of course) as they do talking about each other.

It’s just a really clunky, unbelievable story with characters who never come alive on the page. The reader is told all kinds of things but sees very little happening, except for the plot, which is the most unbelievable thing of all. I had to force myself to finish the book, just to see if it improved. It didn’t.

I don’t write many ranty, negative reviews anymore, because I don’t read books that are likely to produce that reaction. Life is too short and I have so many books I am looking forward to reading. But sometimes I guess wrong, and this turned out to be one of those times. Ah well. This is Harlequin TBR #509, so at least it’s one more off the list.