REVIEW: Kathleen Eagle’s NEVER TRUST A COWBOY, Wherein Miss B. Is Peevish

Never_Trust_CowboyWhen Miss Bates re-started reading romance eight years ago, she combed AAR’s reviews for titles. One of those was Kathleen Eagle’s nearly-DIK-status The Last Good Man, a romance novel about a heroine living in the after-math of breast cancer treatment and a torch-carrying hero. The details about the heroine’s illness were raw and realistic and Miss Bates thought the novel honest and worthy. The romance wasn’t half as interesting, the least memorable aspect of the book. When an Eagle category became available, Miss Bates wanted to give Eagle another try to cement what she thought of her writing and the stories she tells.

In the South-Dakota-set Never Trust A Cowboy, Eagle tells the story of a signature Lakota Sioux hero, Delano Fox, and heroine, Lila Flynn, who shares a cattle ranch with her father, Frank, stepmother, and stepbrother. Her stepbrother, Brad, meets cow-hand Delano at the local watering-hole and hires him. But Delano is not an itinerant cowboy: he actually works a mysterious, Miss Bates would say vague, law enforcement job catching cattle rustlers. Brad, it appears, is running such an operation out of his step-father’s ranch. While Delano investigates the rustling, he gets to know Frank’s daughter, Lila. Lila lives by herself in the house her grandmother left her and has little to do with her father’s new family. She runs a daycare centre out of her barn, as well as what appears to be a lending library. The chemistry between Del and Lila is immediate and potent. But what of Delano’s secret mission? And why does Lila isolate herself on the ranch? Why is she withdrawn and sad? Nevertheless, the attraction between them, peppered with banter, burns strong.

Miss Bates’ response to Never Trust A Cowboy was similar to The Last Good Man: this romance novel is better in its parts than as a whole. She can’t fault Eagle’s novel for egregious anything; it’s a case of how a writer’s voice doesn’t work for a reader, this reader anyway. Miss Bates’ initial impression, from the first few chapters, was positive. Del and Lila are gentle, ruefully humorous characters and carry a quality rare in romance but attractive to Miss Bates: humility. Their physical attraction is subtle, but palpable. There’s a great story-thread involving Lila’s missing dog, Bingo. Del makes it a point of looking for him and when he finds him, takes care of him in a special way. The heroine and hero’s nurturing, loving, but not naïve ways, of caring for animals and children, points to their decency. Decency and humility, coupled with intelligence, make for appealing character qualities. Eagle is also a deft hand at eking out her characters’ personalities, qualities, and back-stories. There’s no info-dump, no telling instead of showing, to use schoolmarm terms. What went wrong for Miss Bates amongst these narrative riches?

She’s not proud to admit that Eagle’s romance novel felt dated. Firstly, the hero and heroine were so idealized and the villains so caricatured and easy to foil that Miss Bates grew bored. There are moral lines, Miss Bates believes, that can’t be crossed in romance, that leave characters irredeemable, then there’s black-and-white good-guys-and-villains that give a romance novel the feel of a silent reel like The Perils of Pauline. The setting and mood of Never Trust A Cowboy were also “off” for Miss Bates: while Del rides off to various spots on the ranch to find a cell phone signal to contact his superior in the FBI, that scrap thrown to the contemporary world is the only one. Eagle’s novel, though contemporary, feels like it’s set during the Depression. This may be part of the problem for Miss Bates: it’s more important to Eagle to convey her idealized hero and heroine’s values, as embodied in an idealized past, than achieve subtlety in characterization. Those values, because Eagle wants to express what she identifies as Del’s Native-American perspective, result in an idealized portrait, a reversal of the John-Wayne-Western as the bad-guy-Indian and heroic-cowboy. This is a perspective we need more of, absolutely, and Miss Bates welcomes it; however, when characters are one-dimensional? That’s problematic too, or at least it is to Miss Bates. (Or it could be that Miss Bates’ urban-angst-post-modern-world is clueless about South Dakota and things really are Depression-Era-like?) If you’re looking for nuanced, fresh portrayals of Native-American characters, Miss B. sings the praises of Sarah M. Anderson’s titles, A Man Of His Word and A Man of Privilege.

The two storylines, cattle-rustling mystery and Del-Lila-romance, don’t meld convincingly. Eagle seems to pick one up and run with it, drop it, and pick up the other. The cattle-rustling thread loses its momentum as the central conflict. Del and Lila’s romance, because they are so lovely and loving and decent, no conflict between them at all. Eagle tries: setting up a wounded back-story for them to overcome, but it never convinced Miss Bates. There wasn’t much at stake in keeping them together, or asunder: Miss Bates lost interest. Their compatibility was determined from the get-go: there’s an HEA, but the journey to it has to have significant pot-holes to keep reader interest.

Lastly, Miss Bates surmises that her disappointment in Never Trust A Cowboy involves the foregrounding, or lack of “backgrounding” of narrative ethos. Miss Bates would say that, by definition, the romance-narrative is one that takes its stand on the side of the reconciling, comedic conclusion: forgiveness, integration into society, prodigality redeemed, conflict overcome, personal demons put to rest. Love trumps necessity in romance. (Again, Miss Bates argues for the HEA being essential to romance.) As a result, romance cannot withstand the foregrounding of the author’s ethos/agenda: it crumples under the weight of agenda because it is heavily agenda-ed itself? And Miss Bates leaves that as a question to ponder in your comments, dear readers.

Readers may readily (hee hee, punning again, MissB) enjoy Eagle’s Never Trust A Cowboy; therein, Miss Bates found only “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.

Kathleen Eagle’s Never Trust A Cowboy was released by Harlequin on December 16th, 2014. It is available in your preferred format at the usual vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.

8 thoughts on “REVIEW: Kathleen Eagle’s NEVER TRUST A COWBOY, Wherein Miss B. Is Peevish

  1. I’m from a small town on a Native American reservation (although I am not a Native American–our entire county is reservation and there are towns with no NA’s at all), and I just never find small town romance to be to my liking. I have a couple of older books from this author, but she is an “auto pass” for me just because of her setting. I know too many real cowboys to even begin to think they’re romantic and I have an easier time believing in the pretend island kingdoms and imaginary sheikdoms in Harlequin Presents novels than I do believing in a hot cowboy in a thriving, charming small town. They seemed to be confined to the Harlequin Special Editions and American Romance lines for a long time, but now I see so many single titles that they must be all the rage. Oh well, it saves me some money….so many books, so little time….and something for everybody.

    Like

    • Miss B. too lives to near two aboriginal territories near her city: the portrayal in Eagle’s books, now that she’s read a few, is not an iota as complex and nuanced. As for the cowboy portrayal: that’s something Miss B. is definitely not familiar with, but its conventional use, as you describe it in a lot of romance, is less and less appealing. And the sheer number of cowboy titles, wow. So true what you say about HPs: those island, or tiny-country kingdoms are fantastical enough to make them more palatable.

      Like

  2. I stayed away from Eagle’s categories. Not saying that they were inferior to her single titles but her single titles were all I read and they were great reads. I’m sure if I go back to read them they will feel dated. I need to go back and read what you thought of The Last Good Man. From your post above, I’d agree that it was good in parts rather than as a whole. I subscribed to your blog because it’s gonna be nice seeing your reactions to books I’ve probably already read and those that I haven’t read. Most of my heavy romance reading took place in the late 80’s and 90’s.

    Like

    • I didn’t actually review The Last Good Man, it was one of my dipping-my-toes-in-the-waters romances and I thought it was better in concept than execution, better in parts, yes, than whole.

      And I subscribe to yours because most of my reading in the 80s and 90s were mysteries. I still read some occasionally and have a lot still in the TBR. I might even review another one one of these days. 😉

      You know what I loved then? Tony Hillerman … just a deep deep love for those Dine-set mysteries, Thief of Time et. al.

      Like

        • Oh, you haven’t read them yet! I’m so excited you might: I loved them. They’re so good, at least my nostalgia tells me so. I read the whole series back in the day, anticipated every one. And there are, not romances, but love stories in them too. Really nice relationships the two detective have with women.

          Like

  3. I found your review quite interesting but I wanted to suggest you might give Kathleen Eagle’s single titles (not category) a try. I read her category titles because I like her voice, but I find many of them much as you describe in this review. But some (not all) of her standalone books are ever so much more complex and interesting (and quite gritty in some cases) like Reason to Believe, or This Time Forever. They might feel dated because they were published 25 or so years ago, but I still find them compelling. Eagle’s husband is Lakota Sioux, they met on the reservation, and she taught on the rez for 17 years, they have many relatives in SD, and still spend quite a bit of time there, so I think she has a few clues about that life and culture. I do not know her personally but have read those details. From my own experience, I would also comment that there are many aspects of reservation life that still more closely resemble third world conditions than they do modern urban life. And although I have similar feelings as the comment by Kim about knowing too many cowboys and having too much small town experience to very easily buy the idea of hot romance in that context, I also can say from life experience that you just can never predict where and between which people romance might strike. But having said that, I live in Alaska now and have exactly the same feeling about books set in Alaska—be they mysteries, romance, or whatever—they just always seem to strike a false note somehow and I can’t stand to read them. Anyway, interesting review, and thank you for your insights and the wonderful style through which you articulate them.

    Like

    • Thank you for your terrific comment and kind, generous words! I have to admit that, after two “fails,” I’m reluctant to try another of Eagle’s books. Though you make a compelling argument: especially the word “gritty.” I do like that. Titles are duly noted 🙂

      I was aware of Eagle’s husband’s background and her connection to working on the reservation. She’s relayed it quite beautifully on her websites. Nevertheless, I had less problem with her detailing of the Native American ethos (though the novel doesn’t take place on a reservation) than the one-dimensionality of her characterization. I found her style somewhat precious and the dialogue elliptical … but that’s more my taste. I don’t live far from some Canadian Native territories and I agree that conditions are not ideal, the further north and west, the worse things get; most shamefully, without clean water in some places.

      Living in Alaska: how beautiful! I hope you’re happy there!

      Like

Comments are closed.