In 1888, riding trains was the most effective way to get around. In The Last Renegade by Jo Goodman, a train ride is the opening scene for a hot Western.
Kellen Coltrane is aboard a train when he meets a stranger. Not only is the stranger claiming to be the author, Nat Church, but he is also sporting a major knife wound. Just before breathing his last, Church asks Kellan to report to the Pennyroyal Saloon—the place he was headed to be the new hired gun.
When Kellan arrives, he is introduced to the townspeople, as well as the owner of the Pennyroyal, Lorraine Berry. Since Lorraine is still in need of protection, Kellan decides to take the job of her guardian. Lorraine’s sister was attacked a few years ago by a powerful cattle baron’s son, and the jurors and witnesses are meeting their ends in seemingly accidental ways.
There is a large cast of supporting characters in Bitter Springs—from a serving girl who falls in love at the drop of a hat to a land loving Mormon (who refrains from coming into town as often as possible). However, the focus is squarely on Raine and her budding romance with Kellan. This part of the novel worked for me. The two of them seem to fit together and complement each other. There were some very steamy romance scenes as well.
The rest of the book left me quite confused. There is a whole subplot about land barons, water rights, and small Western town bullies. If that part was unfolded in a comprehensible way, I am sure I would have enjoyed the book much better. The big bad person in this novel is no mystery, but I still don’t really understand all of the plot. As little things were revealed, I would feel as though I was on track, and then, a few pages later, I would be back to confusion.
I wish I liked the book more. I do enjoy a good Western. However, one that leaves me feeling like I was on a reading roller coaster just didn't do it for me. I got the romance, I understood the motives of the bad guys, but a lot of the events in between, left me confused and only slightly interested in figuring out the mystery. I hope that any other Goodman books that I read (I think I have a couple on my bookshelf) don’t leave me scratching my head in confusion, as this one did.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina