Review: The Convict and the Cattleman by Allison Merritt

convict cattlemanReviewed by Janell

This book is set in Australia in 1840, aka the good old days when England shipped its convicts Down Under, creating a population of settlers and criminals. The hero, Jonah, owns a large, prosperous cattle ranch and he needs a nursemaid for his infant niece. He would prefer an old woman so that the men who work on his ranch, known as jackaroos, won’t be tempted to sleep with her. Jonah goes to the Parramatta Female Factory, which is kind of a prison, to see if there are any decent women to help him out until his lawyer can find someone appropriate. The factory matron gives him Bridgit, a young woman recently arrived from Dublin, convicted for theft. Bridgit is too young and attractive for his needs, but Jonah agrees to take her for a month.

Bridgit attempted to steal from a rich woman’s pocketbook only because her parents were dead and her siblings were starving. Alas, she was convicted and shipped to Australia, left with scars on her wrists and ankles and a fear of thunderstorms and dark places and boats. Luckily she has slender ankles and pear-colored eyes and a way with babies, so Jonah can’t find any fault with her.

I really liked the premise of this book. It had a lot of potential for repressed longing, falling in love against their better judgment, and learning to live in a new, totally different country. At the end, unfortunately, I felt like I didn’t get enough emotion to really connect with the characters.

For example, Jonah believes that the factory matron expects him to marry Bridgit because she’s young and attractive. While it does seem logical, Jonah is against the idea because, um, he’s not going to do what other people think he should do. Then his assistants on the farm — with the exception of his grouchy housekeeper — hint that Jonah should hook up with Bridgit, but he resists it because, um, I don’t know. He doesn’t mention a life goal of falling in love with a non-convict, so his hesitation seems based on the fact that Bridgit was handed to him.

Bridgit is a bit more interesting, resigned to a life of character judgments and hard labor. She’s grateful for her temporary job, and when she realizes that Jonah is interested in her sexually, she has no problem handing over her virginity and agreeing to be his nighttime lover because she figures that she’ll re-visit the memories when she’s back at the factory. She’s so okay with it, in fact, that she doesn’t wonder about her feelings for him, or his for her. She lets other people tell her that they’re obviously in love.

I felt that the plot conflicts relied too much on Bridgit’s criminal past, and that the characters didn’t seem to have strong feelings for each other until after a very contrived climax. They listened too much to other characters rather than speaking to each other and forming their own opinions. I didn’t get enough depth from either Jonah or Bridgit.

The writing is decent, although the sex is very flowery (“the hard rod slipped inside her wetness”). The setting was interesting, but I wouldn’t have minded more historical details, or stronger scenery observations. The plot wasn’t surprising, and the characters weren’t passionate, so I give it a B-.

Click to purchase: Amazon

The Convict and the Cattleman
by Allison Merritt
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Lyrical Press

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