Review: A Wanted Man

Reviewed by Janell

Oh, I wish this book fulfilled the promise of the cover! A sexy cowboy and a gun, what’s not to love? Except, Will Keegan isn’t really a cowboy. And, even though we’re treated to an aside about how his level of skill with guns is “surprising in the son of nonviolent missionaries,” he never shoots one. So let’s just forget the cover.

In San Francisco in 1874, Will masquerades as a saloon owner while secretly rescuing young Chinese prostitutes. Julia Jane Parham masquerades as a tambourine-banging, hymn-singing Salvationist while secretly searching for her best friend who was sold into prostitution. They both grew up in Hong Kong and are fluent in Cantonese. When Julia Jane aka Julie aka Jane comes singing around Will’s saloon, trying to discover prostitutes hidden on the second floor, he tells her that he doesn’t have any prostitutes and then pays her to go away. There. That’s their conflict. But it turns out they’re on the same side, so that’s the end of the conflict. As for romance, while one or the other of them is in bed recuperating from an assassination attempt, they fall in love. The end.

This book does a fairly decent job of describing the setting. I learned a lot about selling girls into prostitution, Chinese brothels and cribs, Chinese laundries, Chinese funeral traditions, and Chinese gangs.

I also learned that people are either moral, noble, loyal, honest, and good; or they are corrupt, racist, violent, untrustworthy, and evil. No grey area, no one standing on shaky moral ground, so you don’t need to waste any energy wondering whether a character will betray another character. For example: the doctor who was unjustly imprisoned after the Civil War and who lost his wife and became an alcoholic but was then brought to San Francisco to care for rescued girls? He’s good. The widowed laundry woman who works with her uncle and helps Julie search for her friend? Oh man is she good. The cab driver who drove Julie from the hotel to the Ghiradelli chocolate factory? His undying loyalty was bought with a mug of hot chocolate. He’s super good.

On the other hand, the Chinese madam who auctions off young girls fresh off the boat from China? She’s old and heartless and she flirts with Will, ew, she’s so evil and gross! Those Chinese gangs — tongs — who are supposedly always waiting to beat up or rob someone even though they never do? Obviously evil. That hotel manager who won’t let Orientals into his hotel? Evil! And, also, fired.

Despite all that generalization, I could have enjoyed the book if it were written differently. This book is a sequel to another book that I haven’t read, so the first chapter is Will and his virtuous best friend having a conversation while the entire plot of the first book is told in between a few lines of dialogue. Do I need that information for this book? No. Skip it. Also, the story has a way of skipping ahead in time and then passively narrating the events that happened. Maybe I would have liked to watch Julie learn how to change her appearance and go undercover and react to things. Nope, instead the plot picks up days later when she’s got a routine and a friend and no problems at all.

I could go on and on, but then I would sound like someone in this book. Let’s just say it’s got a lot of unnecessary background information, not enough real-time action, stilted dialogue, and this sentence: “His kiss was everything she’d learned to expect from his kisses.”

As for the romance, it was delayed and simplistic. Will inappropriately propositions Julie in front of the laundry girl, they play one of the least-sexy games of billiards ever, and then later play one of the least-suspenseful games of Strip High-Card-Wins ever (hint: they’re both only wearing bathrobes). The sex is saved until the final few pages, and then he gives the virgin four orgasms in a row with just his hands and mouth. Later, as they’re spooning, he says, “I fear you may find yourself sheathing my sword at any moment,” which is almost kind of awesome but too little, too late. I had a hard time with this book. If you’re into this period of history, or if you don’t mind an excess of narration slowing down the plot, you might like it. The premise was good, I just couldn’t deal with the execution.

Rating: D-

*ARC Provided by Berkley

Click to purchase: Amazon

A Wanted Man
by Rebecca Hagan Lee
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Publisher: Berkley

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