The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman
Berkley: May 3, 2016
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Free From Publisher
The Devil You Know is the latest Western romance from Jo Goodman and it should be paired with Goodman’s This Gun for Hire. In The Devil You Know Israel McKenna is discovered beaten and bloody on Willa Pancake’s land. Suspicious about how the man ended up in that condition, Willa nonetheless decides to take him in (her precocious sister might have something to do with that). Rather than calming her fears, Israel can’t tell Willa why he ended up where he did in the state that he was; he has very little recollection of his past, and what he does remember he’s not eager to share.
Despite a rather impactful first meeting, Israel and Willa cautiously circle one another as they get to know each other. Their tentative courtship is complicated by the fact that the Pancake’s neighbours want the Pankcake land and they’re not above using nefarious means to get what they want. In fact, the neighbouring rancher’s son would like nothing more than to marry Willa and claim the land in the process. So while Willa and her family are content to let Israel work on their ranch as he recovers, it soon becomes clear that Israel can serve another purpose:
“I don’t merely want to hold him off,” she said. “I want to stop him altogether. I am weary of the shadow he casts. It has weight and substance and darkens my thoughts, my life. I’ve had enough. I want to be done with his proposals once and for all. I want to be done with him. Is that clear enough?”
Israel was struck by her vehemence, but he did not allow himself to respond to her urgency. Calmly, he said, “I think so, but don’t forget I told you I wasn’t good with a gun. If you’re asking me to kill him, I might not be –”
Willa snatched the glass from his hand and sit down hard beside hers. “I am not asking you to kill him. Are you truly recovered from your concussion? I am asking you to marry me!” (p. 119)
Despite the convenience of Israel’s presence on the Pancake ranch, Israel is not quick to accept Willa’s offer of marriage. Instead the romance becomes more complex as Israel starts to recover his own memories and launches a cautious courtship of the prickly Willa.
Anyone that enjoys the slow burn of Mary Balogh’s Regency romances will appreciate the care that Goodman employs in setting up the romance between Israel and Willa. Israel and Willa do not immediately jump into a relationship, but the groundwork for that relationship is subtly laid throughout the book. Like Balogh, the emphasis in the romance is on the characters and their reactions to one another. While this can slow down the pacing, it makes for a more emotional read.
Despite my love for Goodman’s western romances, my one complaint would have to be the way that some issues are glossed over in the book. The pacing of The Devil You Know is comfortably slow; however, that means a lot happens over the course of the book. There are some pretty momentous things that happen during the course of the novel as well as in the past of the main characters. In a way, I felt that because there were several big things happening in the book, their impact and the character’s personal resolution of those events were at odds. It’s a minor quibble in an otherwise outstanding western romance.
If you’ve enjoyed Goodman’s previous western romances at all, The Devil You Know is a must read. It features characters that have a past, one as a criminal, but the way that they, as a couple, deal with that difficulty is truly outstanding. This is another introspective romance from Goodman and I can’t wait to read her next.
As I mentioned in my review, Goodman’s writing reminds me a lot of Mary Balogh. While Balogh sets her historical romances in historic England, there is much about the characterization and tone that will appeal to fans of Goodman. One of my favourites features a heroine that has to deal with a traumatic past similar to Willa’s. Simply Love is a rather touching romance between two bruised and battered characters.
If you appreciate the sheer scope of Goodman’s novel, Ellen O’Connell’s Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold is great follow-up read. It’s another western romance, and while I wouldn’t say the characters are particularly similar to Willa or Israel, I think O’Connell’s sparse writing style will appeal to fans of Goodman.
My last recommendation is Lorraine Heath’s Texas Splendor. This might be an obvious choice since it’s hero has also spent time in prison, but I think it will appeal because like Goodman, Heath contrives a story that makes impossible odds seem possible.