REVIEW: True to the Law by Jo Goodman
Dear Ms. Goodman:
I love your books. I particularly love the slow way that they unfold, like a scroll unfurling as you toss it down a long set of red carpeted steps and then slowly wind it back up as you read each word and each sentence. Your books are for savoring. Alas. True to the Law took some time for me to get into. The first twenty five percent of the book read almost too slow, like my hand was broken and I could only roll the scroll up one jerky twist at a time and then I got frustrated and threw the scroll on the ground and stomped around a little.
I’m not sure if it was my previous expectations that led to such a weird interaction with the book or whether the execution was just wonky. After the first twenty five percent of very slow setup which spent far too long on showing us how adorable two random kids are, the schoolteacher in her robe is snogging with the stranger who dissed her earlier that evening in the hotel restaurant.
Let’s back up here. Cobb Bridger has been hired by Richard Mackey to find Tru Morrow who used to be the companion to Richard’s grandmother. Richard implies that Tru has taken something extremely valuable. Cobb isn’t sure he really trusts Mackey but he’s intrigued by the job and sets out to locate her. He finds her teaching school in Bitter Springs, Wyoming.
Cobb comes to Bitter Springs with some subterfuge (not unlike the last book) and Tru takes to him immediately. They begin a flirtation that raises the eyebrows of the townsfolk and Cobb is warned off. Instead of having dinner with Tru, at her invitation, he stops by Tru’s house later that evening. She greets him at the door in her robe. She invites him in and after a semi witty repartee filled with allusions, they start kissing like they are long lost lovers. It was weird.
He continues to creep into her house at all hours and, at one point, actually carries her into the parlor, sets her down on the sofa while she is in her nightgown and then wonders whether he should close the drapes. She’s a single schoolteacher. I just have a hard time believing she could cavort in a small town with a man in her house after midnight and in her nightgown with neither of them even one whit concerned about her reputation. Were things that different in 1889 Wyoming?
The other thing I didn’t love in this book is that Cobb is out to investigate Tru. Sure he becomes more interested in proving her innocence than finding her guilty, but I really disliked that he courted her under false pretenses. It seemed unsavory to me. The plot involves the mystery of Tru’s connection to the Mackeys and what exactly Andrew Mackey wants with Tru as well as Cobb becoming integrated into the Bitter Springs community. Conveniently the town is looking for a marshal.
I really love Goodman books and I’ve loved the previous Westerns. I’m not sure what happened in this book but it felt unnatural from the romantic arc to the individual scenes themselves. I felt awkward and uncomfortable during the love scenes and frustrated at the power that Cobb held in the relationship, a dynamic that I usually don’t associate with a Goodman book.
While the writing is, as always, quite nice, the storyline didn’t work for me and neither did the characters. What a bummer. C
That’s too bad! I love Jo Goodman and I was looking forward to reading True to the Law. The whole set-up does sound really off putting……I guess I’ll wait and see if it comes to the library.
Thanks for the review
I agree completely with your assessment and had begun to wonder if it was just me being too picky. I had the same reaction to that first kissing scene, and “weird” is just the right word. I just have such high expectations from this author that it’s doubly disappointing and puzzling .
Tru’s behavior does seem surprising for a Goodman heroine, much less for the 19th century. Does Tru have an angsty past? I recall that Cybelline in One Forbidden Evening had anonymous sex with the hero at the beginning of the story out of turmoil over her husband’s death.
Goodman is an auto-read for me. Her Westerns definitely fall on the ‘restful’ side of the spectrum, even moreso than her Regency-set historicals.
@Anu: Does Tru have an angsty past?
Yes, she does. Don’t want to get into spoiler territory here, but that angsty past makes the snogging even more surprising.
I figured out what the “stolen item” was early on. But Goodman didn’t really explain WHY Tru ended up with it. There were a couple of hints that seemed to be pointing in a certain direction, but were never elaborated on.
I’m a big Goodman fan, but I agree that this wasn’t one of her best efforts.
@Sandra: Agreed, nothing about either character justified the early intimacy very well for me. Did someone suggest that she had to introduce sex earlier in order for her books to be more successful? It just struck me so odd and provided a very unstable base for the story as it went on. Sad.
It’s almost like someone — publisher, agent — said write another book like “Never Love a Lawman”. It’s a very similar storyline, but not nearly as well done.
Well, I didn’t like this as well as I liked The Last Renegade, or Never Love a Lawman, but I liked it better than everyone else seems to have done. It didn’t start slowly for me, and while you could see what was going on with the Mackeys about ten miles off, I found that sort of satisfying.
On the other hand, I am reading the first of Goodman’s Thorne brothers books now, and finding it much less satisfying than the Westerns. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I have read WAY more Regencies/early Victorians than Westerns and have formed my expectations about Westerns from movies and television rather than books, but I don’t think so. I think Goodman’s Westerns are really good, and the one I am reading now is just not up to that standard. I mean, the heroine is an earl’s daughter, and everybody calls her “Miss Leyden,” for crying out loud.
@etv13: I think her American set books are her best. The Dennehy sisters books are quite good and I loved the San Francisco set books that she published recently. This was just a miss for me. I’m still a Goodman fangirl.
I didn’t dislike it. I just don’t think it’s as good as some of her other works. As for her Regencies, I really like The Compass Club books. It’s so rare to find a series that overlaps, rather than being sequential. And the last Thorne Brothers book is my favorite of that series. But that could be because it’s set in San Francisco, not England.
@etv13: The first of the Thorne brothers books is the weakest of that series, IMO. But it sets up the second book, which IMO is the best of the series and pretty much my favorite Goodman book ever.
Actually, one of the things I love about the Thorne brothers series is that it spans England and America, with the second book set in Boston and the third in San Francisco.
I’ve gotten up to the 82% mark, by dint of a lot of skimming, and I’m just not sure I can go on. Maybe I’ll try the next one, though.
I’m in the minority here, having enjoyed this one more than you seem to have. That may be affected by the fact that I picked it up after four DNFs in a row. I was beginning to think I was incapable of enjoyment.
I wasn’t troubled by Cobb’s role as an investigator, especially since it didn’t take him long to end up on Tru’s side and realize that his original mistrust of Mackay was justified. I do agree that they should have at least closed the curtains.
One thing I like about Goodman’s westerns is that even when horrible things have happened to the heroines, the books aren’t as searing as her regencies, like the compass club books and some of the ones that followed. It’s not that I don’t like them—I do, and admire them tremendously. It’s just that I have to be feeling reasonably sturdy when I read them.
I am bummed to read this review as I am also a Goodman fangirl and have read all of her books. But the bothersome points that you raised would bother me as well. I may have to skip this one to avoid associating too much frustration/irritation/etc. with reading a Goodman.