REVIEW: The Last Renegade by Jo Goodman
Dear Ms. Goodman:
Your books always present a challenge for me to review because oftentimes the plot is a mystery and thus delving into the story can ruin the surprise for many readers. The Last Renegade is one of those types of stories. Set in Wyoming Territory, 1888, Lorraine Berry answered a newspaper ad to bring a gunman to Bitter Springs because all the good men of the town are being murdered by the rancher who owns the town.
The gunman’s name is Nat Church, the name that is attached to a series of popular penny dreadfuls. Nat Church never makes it to Bitter Springs, but instead a man by the name of Kellen Coltrane appears at the train stop with a story that he will carry out Nat Church’s agreement with Lorraine Berry. Even though Lorraine has taken the step to hire a gunslinger, when Kellen appears and Nat Church has been killed, she has second thoughts.
About all I can say is that both Kellen and Lorraine have a number of secrets and they are parceled out carefully throughout the story, like a squirrel eating nuts through the winter. Kellen says he is a newspaperman or at least that is his cover to the townspeople. Lorraine is a widow or at least that is the masquerade she’s maintained. Both secrets are important to the evolution of the romance and town’s situation.
The townspeople play a big role, particularly two young boys whose energetic noisiness provide the obvious humor in contrast to Kellen’s dry wit. Lorraine is a steely saloon/hotel owner who is about the only person in town willing to take on the nefarious rancher. The tale of how she became to be part of Bittersprings is as fitting as the town’s name.
In the beginning, the story reminded me a bit of those old westerns by Louis L’Amour, with the taciturn hero, the Old West sensibilities. (I loved LLA as a girl. I devoured those Sackett books like I would a can of Pringles after a week long fast) But it took an Agatha Christie turn in the middle as we readers were confronted with trying to suss out the killers amongst them. (Frankly this part was a little too easy as it wasn’t likely going to be any of the faithful townspeople).
Where the book stumbled was in the secret keeping. Both characters are fairly closed off and while it is revealed late in the game that Lorraine knew Kellen’s secrets without him revealing them, I wondered at her equanimous acceptance of his lack of personal revelations. Perhaps we were to understand that she understood the necessity of secrets but she divulged hers to him. Perhaps it is just the code of the West. The Sacketts weren’t terribly loquacious.
I was pleasantly surprised by the sensuality level of the book. Have they all been like this or was this more obvious? In some ways, the sensuality was a good way for the two to express themselves. Perhaps the unspoken language of love was at work here, with Kellen and Lorraine expressing through their erotic exchanges what they won’t say verbally.
The other thing that I liked were the villains. They were brutal and cruel, but there were moments of mercy and, not kindness exactly, but decency? or maybe humanity? It made the ending more shocking yet dramatic. B-