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Crooked Hearts Mass Market Paperback – December 1, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Crooked hearts indeed. Both the hero and heroine of this fast-paced romp through California in the 1880s are so adept at lying and scheming that the narrative is more than half over before they--or the reader--know each other's true stories or real names. But Grace Russell and Reuben Jones are a pair of very likable rogues--good-hearted and good-humored 20-somethings whose disadvantaged pasts have virtually compelled them to resort to a succession of cons to survive life on the American frontier. When they meet on a San Francisco-bound stagecoach--she disguised as a nun soliciting money for African orphans and he posing as a wealthy blind scholar--sparks fly but are quickly dampened as each recognizes in the other a kindred spirit perpetually on the make. Nonetheless, they join forces to defraud a mysterious Chinatown crimelord, who, being neither trustworthy nor nice, makes their lives complicated, dangerous and increasingly intertwined. The ensuing story line is so convoluted that it is nearly impossible to follow, but most readers will be willing to muddle through, because the characters themselves truly are engaging and refreshingly unstereotypical. Grace is independent and sexually liberated but never brassy, while Reuben struggles valiantly to project the bravura of a Wild West hero but readily admits to a deep fear of knives and a decidedly unmacho passion for wine collecting. Their sexual encounters are sweetly erotic, and their hopes, fears and desires ring true.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
The plot goes around and around in some strange and absurd twists. Characters pop in and out as needed. I had to remind myself that I was supposed to be looking at people through 19th Century eyes, but still, some of the representations were disturbing. Much of the action takes place in San Francisco. The Chinese female population are all prostitutes. The male Chinese are all thugs or drug dealers. The main Chinese character immediately lusts after the blonde heroine. It was a bit hard to take.
Apparently, the author is a wine aficionado and really wanted to convey her knowledge. So boring. And there are some sex scenes that are painful and ridiculous.
I found myself groaning out loud so many times. If the book had been half as long or half as preposterous, it would have been great fun, but it was too much for too long. I would rate it four stars for the beginning third, three stars for the middle, and two stars for the last third.
Reuben and Grace are both con artists whose paths cross on a Wells Fargo stage coach on the way to San Francisco. I won't give the joke away, but the nature of their meeting is hilarious and kicks off the book in grand style on a very high note. This sets the pattern for the outrageous high jinks these two will concoct once they team up to recoup their losses after their stage coach is held up and their ill-gotten gains are stolen from them.
I love Reuben - he's one of the best heroes ever. That doesn't tell you much, but really you have to read this book to find out how awesome he is, because I can only gush about him. He's so funny, so much fun, so dashing as a con artist, but so human at the same time - an incongruous, perfect mix of comedy, sex appeal, and unexpected depths. He adeptly balances the role of both buffoon and hero. He's a wine connoisseur. He's brave so long as there are no knives around. He gets beat up a lot. He's a wanderer, a cheat, a flirt, and a survivor. Best of all, he's unrepentantly and unapologetically himself. Can you tell I'm a fan?
Reuben is perfectly matched in wits and skill with Grace, who is also a con artist, and who is also awesome. We first meet her as she's masquerading as a nun packing a derringer strapped to her garter. And that really says it all doesn't it? They're a very mismatched pair, considering neither of them can trust the other as far as they can throw them - this savvy wariness goes hand in hand with a great deal of respect. They each recognize the other for the flimflam masters that they are.
My only complaint would be the general plot of the story. The author has created these two brilliant characters, but she doesn't seem to really know what to do with them. A villain emerges in the form of a Chinese gang lord named Mark Wing who becomes obsessed with Grace - which leads to a drugging and attempted rape scenario that seems dated and disturbing to me - all the more so because it cements a pattern that has begun to emerge for poor Grace. She gets stuck in situations that invariably end up with her as the brunt of a joke, at some disadvantage, more often than not because she's naked. It starts out funny, and helps along with the chemistry between her and Reuben, but I began to draw the line with the whole Mark Wing episode, which just seemed very off to me, not to mention contrived. It forces Grace into a situation that makes her look very stupid - which is all the more annoying because up to that point she isn't stupid at all, and it seems egregiously out of character for her to use such poor judgment. She ends up acting like an idiot and making stupid choices that ruin the scam they're working on at the time, which, besides having dire consequences for Reuben, gets her into a big dangerous mess that's entirely of her own making. It's a huge disappointment because it seems more like sabotage of a character that I really respected, and all for the sake of a plot twist whose only end, that I could see, was getting her in bed with the hero. So Grace gets pretty poor treatment, in the book and as a character.
After a while, though, Grace gets to redeem herself, and, except for some temporary misunderstandings that seem more like desperate filler and really test my patience, it's smooth sailing the rest of the way. Crooked Hearts is well worth a read, despite those objections I mentioned. The romance might suffer a bit in favor of all the action and adventure, especially when the intrigues involving the villainous Mark Wing take over near the end, but when they are together, and the difficulties and misunderstandings are cleared up, Reuben and Grace are a great couple. This is much lighter than the other books by Gaffney I've read - but it's not too light, not by any means.