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REVIEW: Outlaw by Susan Johnson

Outlaw by Susan JohnsonDear Ms. Johnson:

I wish I could recall the first book I’ve read of yours. It was one of the Braddock Black series, either Blaze or Forbidden. Outlaw was published in 1993 and it remains one of my favorite historical romances. I view you and Robin Schone as having birthed the erotic romance genre. Your books were the raciest thing on the romance shelves in the early 90s. But as well known as you are for the lushness of your sex scenes, you are equally acknowledged to have written period accurate historicals educating your readers along with entertaining them.

The characters in your books are often writ large and Outlaw is no different but the extravagance of the characters, from their emotions to their actions, to the narrative, all fit together.

Johnnie Carre, the Earl of Graden, Laird of Ravensby, is a young, wealthy and powerful Border lord but in the year of 1704, being wealthy and powerful on the border between Scotland and Englad meant being ruthless with the sword, ready with the bribe, and quick with the verbal parry. Johnnie excelled at alll three not to mention his prowess in the bedroom. His wealth and power and pedigree (Scottish) inspired jealousy and hatred in many but in particular Harold Godfrey. The animosity between the two reached a fervish height when Godfrey kidnapped Johnnie’s younger brother and heir, Robbie.

Unable to storm the Englishman’s castle, Johnnie Carre took someone valuable to Harold: Elizabeth Graham. Elizabeth wasn’t valuable to her father because he loved her. Elizabeth was nothing more than an asset. Harold had sold her once, when she was sixteen, to an old wealthy man, Hotchane Graham. Graham had recently died, leaving his wife of eight years a large fortune. Since her widowhood, Elizabeth has been seen as untouchable, heavily guarded by her father’s garrison and her own private army.

The hostage taking, a time honored border tradition, brings Johnnie and Elizabeth together where they may not have met in the past. Johnnie, whose attentions cast a wide and varied net, didn’t ordinarily pay attention to the virtuous widow, particularly the daughter of one of his hated enemies, Harold Godfrey. Elizabeth spent her first sixteen years as a pawn of her father and then eight years under the thumb and body of another old man. The last thing that she wants is to be tied to yet another powerful and profligate man.

Much of the first half of the book is about wanting and not having. Sexual tension is rife whetting the reader’s appetite.

"And this is all new for you-‘this abstinence."

Johnnie's sigh this time was an exhalation of strained resignation. "Totally."

"Do you feel the inspiration of this new and noble temperance infusing your soul with virtue?" Munro teasingly mocked.

"Actually, I'm at the point of hitting the next person I speak to out of frustration alone."

Much time is given to showing how unrestrained Johnnie’s life was before he meets Elizabeth and thus, his interactions with Elizabeth are markedly different.

"I could change plans," Elizabeth had said, "but George Baldwin's sister is scheduled to return to London on Thursday, so we'd made arrangements for a small gathering on Wednesday. I'd really hate to disappoint her. She's very pleasant – and an excellent harpist. Do you enjoy the harp?"

A man who studiously avoided amateur musical entertainments, Johnnie Carre nevertheless tranquilly replied, "Very much."

Munro's amazement took the form of a sudden coughing fit.

"I hope you haven't taken a chill, Cuz," Johnnie smoothly observed as his cousin attempted to regain his composure.

It was a journey of fascinating revelations-‘with Johnnie Carre on his very best behavior. Munro considered the three-hour ride to Three Kings the most faultless example of lust-driven prevarication he'd ever had the good fortune to see

For Elizabeth, she paid for her independence with precious coin and she plans to use her wealth to protect her freedom. Even if she has feelings for Johnnie, she is a pragmatist. She has the means and the will to take actions that do not include Johnnie which leads to one of the most thrilling wedding scenes I’ve read in a romance. Three hundred mounted men ride from Ravensby Keep to Hexham and storm a chapel.

I wanted to add how much I loved the detail in the story. As the clansmen are running through the keep, they had to run single file because the “In the medieval portion of Goldiehouse the ceilings were low, the hallways narrow, built for defense centuries ago. Only one man could comfortably navigate the corridors.” Johnnie is described at one point as “a Border chieftain of renown, a freebooter in diamond buckles and courtly attire.” Elizabeth, during the exchange, is attired in a lavender wool cape with embroidered violet leather gloves. Her father “the corpulence of thirty years' dissipation was partially concealed beneath the well-cut leather and elegant bossing of his silver-studded jack.” The people, the settings, were all so alive.

I’ve re-read this book often and it never fails to entertain me. I like how Johnnie and Elizabeth do not change their fundamental nature. Johnnie remains autocratic. Elizabeth still wants her independence. Their love for each other only changes their priorities. The story is driven by both internal conflict and external conflict and the sex scenes, while lush and plentiful and innventive for the time, played an important part of displaying the characters and their internal struggles with love and possession. A-

Best regards,


PS Dear Bantam, while I appreciate your efforts in digitizing the backlist, you really, really need a proofreader. The number of OCR errors are kind of embarrassing.

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Barbara Sheridan
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 14:55:39

    I never read Outlaw but the Braddock Black books and Pure Sin are still on my keeper shelf.

    The footnotes, how I loved them.

  2. Danielle D
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 16:07:33

    I miss the “old” Susan Johnson books — like this one and Blaze!

  3. FD
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 16:33:19

    H’mmmm. For some reason I’ve never read a Susan Johnson. Would this be a good one to start with? I like the time period, although I’m a tad wary about the hero being a Border Lord – does the dialogue include brogue?

  4. GrowlyCub
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 17:00:25

    @Danielle D:

    Me, too! I loved those footnotes and the real passion she put in her books and I don’t mean the erotic stuff either.

    Her recent works are so generic and so boring I have to admit I’ve wondered if somebody else is writing them…

    Outlaw is not one of my faves, but that has to do more with setting than anything else. My favorites are Pure Sin and Forbidden.

    FD, I’d start with Pure Sin because it’s a standalone title. Oh, how I wish she’s written more about them, they were such a fab couple… sigh, good times.

  5. Susan Reader
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 17:58:40


    I hated the footnotes! They always seemed awkward and distracting (why not just put the information into an endnote?) and arbitrary, with no consistency to what was footnoted and what wasn’t.

    I did enjoy the hotness of the books, though, back in those long-ago days before erotic romance was everywhere.

    My favorite was one that had a Russian (general?) as the hero and the heroine was the wife(?) of a nasty French(?) general(?). But I do remember the indigo purple of the cover!

  6. Jane
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 19:13:40

    @Barbara Sheridan Those books are my favorites of Johnson too. I think you would really enjoy this one.

  7. Jane
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 19:15:14

    @FD No, I don’t remember there being any brogue in this book at all. You get a sense of their Scottish heritage more from their location and hatred for the English than anything else. I also remember the clothing being of great import. Johnnie wore diamond buckles, fine velvet, and red heeled shoes at some point. He was a man who loved the finer things in life. A real hedonist.

  8. Jane
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 19:20:45

    @Susan Reader I loved the footnotes. The Russia general…Those are the Kurzan books, right? Seized by Love; Love Storm; Sweet Love, Survive

  9. Jamie Wesley
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 19:23:08

    Pure Sin! Pure Sin! Pure Sin! I loved that book the first time I read it and still love it today. My copy is all grubby from the many times I’ve read it. I don’t like her newer stuff nearly as much.

  10. GrowlyCub
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 19:28:11

    @Jamie Wesley:

    The cover is coming off my copy of ‘Pure Sin’ I’ve read it so often. Time to start looking for a replacement copy, methinks, and a re-read, although I just did that not 4 months ago. :)

  11. Bonnie
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 19:37:50

    Just ordered this for Kindle. I adored her older books, too. Never read her newer stuff because of all the negative reviews.

    Can’t wait to settle into this one.

  12. Gennita Low
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 19:49:33

    I have three copies of each of Susan Johnson’s old historicals. I reread the set every year, most of all OUTLAW and TABOO. One of the copies of Taboo is in shreds, I love that story so darn much. Johnnie Carre definitely has a special place in my heart, as well as the Kuzan generals. The footnotes always made me want to travel to those places and see Johnson’s characters there.

  13. Keishon
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 20:28:40

    Bring me PURE SIN, dammit. I love that damn book. I didn’t read a whole lot of Susan Johnson’s books, Outlaw included but I intend to rectify that. You should do more reviews of the good stuff that’s digitized. Brings back memories of the good ole days.

  14. Amy
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 22:12:33

    Outlaw is one of my favorite Susan Johnson books as well! Pure Sin, Outlaw, and Forbidden are my favorites (in the stated order), and they remain on my keeper shelf. They represent, IMO, the best of her work and are my favorites in large part because I felt the couples were truly equals (with strong and independent women), the romance was believable, and the historical detail was wonderful — I even loved the footnotes. I’m not keen about any of the Kurzon/Russian novels and the rest of her 1990’s novels ranges from blah to fine.

    IMO none of her works from the past 10+ years or so come close to the level of plotting/characterization/historic detail/and believable romance shown in Pure Sin, Outlaw, and Forbidden. I stopped reading Susan Johnson a few years ago because I finally got tired of feeling disappointed about how bad her books were getting. It is as if there are two different Susan Johnsons: one who introduced me to erotic romance and wrote Pure Sin, Outlaw, and Forbidden; and one whose creative juice dried out years ago as she only seems capable of writing bad stories with recycled characters, repetitive sex scenes, unbelievable romances, and lame plots.

  15. Elle
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 22:14:13

    Here’s another vote for PURE SIN; it’s one of my absolute favorites! I also really loved BRAZEN — I enjoyed the unconventional heroine in that one. OUTLAW was also very good. I don’t think that I have ever read FORBIDDEN….

  16. Amy
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 22:59:08

    I’ve been giving my ranking (above) some more thought and I think I may need to move Outlaw above Pure Sin. Hum, perhaps it is time to reread the two as it has been awhile since I’ve reread them — I’ve forgotten some details!

  17. Janine
    Apr 18, 2010 @ 00:51:22

    My favorite of the vintage Johnsons I’ve read is Wicked but I’ve observed that most of my friends prefer Pure Sin.

  18. coribo25
    Apr 18, 2010 @ 05:05:47

    The book sounds a good read, but I couldn’t help noticing those speech tags/adverb combos. Not sure they’d make it past an editor, these days.

    Munro teasingly mocked…
    Johnnie smoothly observed…
    tranquilly replied…

  19. Sherry Thomas
    Apr 18, 2010 @ 09:48:00

    It’s WICKED for me too, the first book of hers that I read. I discovered it in the summer of 1998. The exuberant sexuality totally carried me away.

    And incidentally, it was the first historical romance I’d read in a long time that didn’t have a murder/mystery/artifact hunting subplot. And convinced me that as averse to plotting as I was, I might be able to write a romance too.

  20. Jane
    Apr 18, 2010 @ 17:09:03

    @Sherry Thomas I cannot remember Wicked so I guess I’m in for a re-read. How horrible.

    I agree with everyone else that says that Johnson’s current works are perfunctory. It’s true for me as well. I almost view her recent publications as soulless.

  21. Jane
    Apr 18, 2010 @ 17:10:05

    @coribo25 That could very well be a Johnson tick.

  22. Jennifer North
    Apr 18, 2010 @ 17:33:29

    Adore this book. Adore Susan Johnson. Yep, she can miss on occasion but when she hits…mmm, mmm.

    Golden Paradise is an absolute gem that also has a Russian general hero (heroine is a Kuzan relative I believe).

    My all time favorite Johnson is another oldie but goodie, Sinful…it’s totally over the top plot-wise, but the heroine was an ingenue in a refreshing way and the hero hit every last delicious spot in my alpha-hungry soul. :o)

  23. Gina
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 05:36:34

    The cover evokes memories of sitting up way past my bed time, flashlight under the covers, hoping not to get caught by my parents as I read a book my mother would no doubt call “smut”. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I stayed up all night on a school night to read one of her books! It may be time to fish out my old favorites box from the attic and do a re-read. Thanks for the nostalgia!

  24. windywillow
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 13:54:42

    @Gina: Me too! And thanks goodness for self-check out at the library :)

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