REVIEW: A Kiss to Die For by Claudia Dain
Dear Ms. Dain:
I am not sure where you are today in your writing career, but in 2003, you wrote one of my favorite westerns ever published. It is an oft overlooked gem and I am glad to have this forum to bring it to a few people’s attention. I want to give thanks to Sybil for bringing the topic of Westerns up and pinging my memory about this wonderful book.
AKTDF is a great suspense and romance book. It has just enough of both to make the book interesting which is a difficult balance. I have always thought that you were a good, but uneven writer. In AKTDF, your writing is at your best. Your tendency toward repetition is not as noticeable. Your prose isn’t overwrought. You do have an over the top, dramatic ending, but for me it was perfect.
Anne Ross is a young woman (18) living with her mother, aunt and grandmother. She is unmarried and dreams of leaving Abilene KS for somewhere else. Her grandmother, Daphne, rules their household and Anne is fairly spineless. I know this because Jack says it is so. Jack Skull/Scullard is a bounty hounter that brings a wanted man to Abilene. Bounty hunters are despised and feared. Jack says that he is hunting a killer of young women all the way up to Abilene. Some people think that Jack is the killer. Abilene is where the trail ends. There is one line at the end of the chapter after Jack finds another body in which you say that death is coming to Abilene. It was chilling. I didn’t realize you could do suspense so well. There are scenes in which the deaths are described, the bodies are described, but rather than being gratuitous or ugly, each description advances the story and provides clues to the killer.
Anne really isn’t spineless but comports herself as you would expect a proper young woman to comport herself. She is not feisty. She does not go into the s
saloon or try to save the soiled doves. She and Jack are immediately taken with each other – so much so that Anne and Jack kiss on the train platform in front of the train station attendant. The trail of gossip that ensues is hilarious as we follow the train station attendant to the saloon wherein he reports that Jack is kissing Anne! Of course, the bartender tells the next person that walks in who tells someone else and so forth. The justification that each person gives him or herself for spreading the gossip is deliciously funny. There is wonderful sly humor that permeates the book and provides an excellent offset to the dark theme.
Anne herself was interestingly drawn. Ordinarily, the shy, retiring heroine does not appeal to me, but this character wasn’t cloyingly sweet. She grew up under the thumb of a tyrant where any expression of individuality was quashed. Anne’s goal was to please her grandmother because she was taught that her upbringing was a gift, given the circumstances of her birth. Anne’s intent in pleasing her grandmother naturally became part of her makeup to such an extent that she tried to please everyone. It wasn’t an affection, it was just Anne.
The suspense doesn’t involve just finding out who is the killer, but readers also look for answers as to why Anne goes to the train platform everyday, why is Jack a loner. The romance was very very sweet with Jack being a wonderful hero. Jack talks and acts like a man, not a woman’s version of a man. You do a great job in the imagery of the story, so much so that my mouth felt dry and dusty when I was reading it. It’s an A read for me.
I hope you find your writing rhythm again. I miss the stories that you had to tell us romance readers.