Miss Bates reads less and less inspirational romance, especially in light of what she learned from Ros’s astute observations, as well as insightful posts from Emma Barry and Gen Turner focussing on the “conversion narrative” thread. Nevertheless, sometimes one yearns for the sheer fantastical wholesomeness of the inspie. That being said, Miss Bates would argue that inspirational romance is as fantastical, as unrealistic in its “world-building” as sub-genres such as SFF, UF, PNR (wherein we find critique of the ways of our world, a common feature of utopian and dystopian fiction since Swift penned Gulliver’s Travels; if one can categorize inspirational romance fiction thus, then it is of the “utopian” variety, with problematic inclusions and ethos). The world of most inspirational fiction is populated by uniformity and bolstered by reductive theology. That is as true of Goodnight’s The Lawman’s Honour as it is of any category inspie that Miss Bates has read. Part of what prodded Miss Bates into reading The Lawman’s Honor was Goodnight’s name on the cover. She enjoyed The Christmas Child: there was great tension between hero and heroine and an interesting storyline. Goodnight is a competent writer, smooth, assured, and adept at adding a dollop of humor. Miss Bates forgives a lot for a well-turned phrase. Goodnight’s The Lawman’s Honour started out well, so atmospheric and compelling, but lagged, lost tension, and fell flat by the end.
A compelling couple of scenes initiate Goodnight’s romance narrative. In the prologue, widow Cassie Blackwell climbs to Whisper Falls (in the Ozarks) where she prays to be free to feel again, “Since the funeral, I’ve been numb … I want to feel again.” Hers was a short-lived courtship and marriage to Darrell Chapman.
In the next scene, we meet the man who’s going to “thaw” Cassie’s heart, Heath Monroe, ex-DEA agent and Whisper Falls’ new assistant police chief. It is a dark and stormy night 😉 and Heath is driving a treacherous road to Whisper Falls, as is Cassie. She witnesses his car plunging into a ravine. Echoing the Good Samaritan story, Cassie rushes down to help. It is cold, dark, and raining heavily: she comforts, humours, and cares for Heath as he lies injured and trapped, in and out of consciousness. The scene is tightly written and dramatic; it draws us in and we like the leads, especially Cassie, owner of the town salon, offering Heath a “mani-pedi” if he’ll hold on till help arrives. She is gentle, funny, and smart. It’s easy to like her. Heath is charming in this scene, endearing and cute as he rouses himself from pain-and-confusion fog to exclaim, ” ‘You’re pretty,’ he mumbled. ‘Got a boyfriend?’ ” Goodnight does everything right in this scene and Miss Bates settled into the book with that smugly comfortable feeling of the knowing reader, “I sure can pick ’em.” Not. It’s lethal when a book peaks in chapter one.
What follows plot and character-wise is a mess and the key to the mess is Heath. As the title hints, Heath’s mission is his badge; specifically, he brings drug dealers to justice, or as he puts it, “Ferreting out darkness seemed to be his calling.” Firstly, Goodnight’s constant quoting of the “war on drugs” sounds dated (not that drugs don’t continue to be a problem, MissB. doesn’t mean to be dismissive, but the terminology and the supremacy of the problem/solution sound dated). Heath’s zeal originates from his father, also a drug enforcement agent, who was killed in the line of duty, “His father had taught him that. Never give up. Right the wrongs. Fight the fight. He was an army of one. One man could change the world … His father’s life mattered and Heath aimed to carry the torch.” He carries his father’s badge and it “burns with the flame of justice.”
Oh dear. Conflict is introduced when Heath discovers that Cassie’s dead husband was involved in the drug trade. Even though he’s attracted to Cassie and she saved his life, he takes advantage of her attraction for him to discover everything he can about Darrell by dating her. This makes Heath a shabby hero; his actions are unethical … and, ultimately, he appears stupid and paranoid, “Was sweet, friendly, attractive Cassie Blackwell involved in drug trafficking?” he thinks. Later on, he persists in these false, paranoid assumptions, “A cop fell for the wrong woman and she took him down.” What is this, thought Miss Bates, “The Maltese Falcon”? If he’s such a crack ex-DEA agent, with years of experience, wouldn’t basic investigative methods rule her out? All he has to do is observe her movements, no? She travels from her salon to her brother’s ranch, where she lives, to having lunch and dinner with him. On Sundays, they go to church together. Okay, Heath is torn about this occasionally, but he persists in thinking the worst of her … when evidence points to the contrary. This continued till the final couple of chapters and it ruined the book for Miss Bates. It’s too bad because, on occasion, their banter and dates are fun to read; soon thereafter, however, Heath’s suspicions rear their ugly heads. The HEA is handled more adroitly, but too little, too late.
Heath and Cassie are believers, though the faith element doesn’t go beyond the occasional prayer and simplistic theological statements such as, “You’ve put your life in God’s hands. He’s got your back.” God plays defense in inspirational romance fiction. The lack of a “conversion narrative” (see the posts linked to in the introduction) flattens the inspirational romance narrative. Because sexual tension is kept at a minimum and sexual union is non-existent, the “conversion narrative” serves as a source of seemingly unbreachable conflict between the hero and heroine. In The Christmas Child, for example, the heroine has to bring the jaded, disillusioned, weary cop to God; his growing love for her, part and parcel of the conversion process, spurs him onto God’s love as well. In the meantime, whatever else they’re fighting, they’re doing so together. The suspicion-and-betrayal conflict that Goodnight set up in The Lawman’s Honour did not work as well, as convincingly. (Like The Christmas Child, there is a similar pattern to Allie Pleiter’s Homefront Hero and Christmas romance, Season Of Joy by Virginia Carmichael, both of which Miss Bates enjoyed.) The “conversion narrative” if not adhered to dogmatically, as any trope in romance fiction, can “work” depending on how it’s handled.
There’s some lovely writing and nice, bantering, teasing scenes (especially involving the heroine’s penchant for junk food) in Goodnight’s The Lawman’s Honour, but Miss Bates couldn’t find more than “tolerable comfort” (Mansfield Park) in it.
Linda Goodnight’s The Lawman’s Honour has been available since Feb. 18 and may be purchased from the usual merchants in the usual formats.
Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin Books for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.
What are your thoughts on the “conversion narrative” (wherein hero or heroine convert the non-believing partner)? Are you a fan, or not? Or does it depend on how it’s handled?