I did a Costco run the other day and, as I always do, I glanced at the book display. This time, they had two books by one of my favorite junk/romance novel writers: Linda Howard. Both of the books were at prices comparable to what I’d pay for them on my iPad’s Kindle app so, yielding to an impulse, I put both in my cart.
The first, Shadow Woman, Howard wrote herself and, I’m sorry to say, it’s not one of her best. Not bad, but not good either. As I read it, I had the feeling that she was dealing with a deadline, rather than enjoying the writing process. In her better books (e.g., Kill and Tell, Open Season, or Mr. Perfect), you feel that she likes her characters and wants you to like them too. In this latest, Howard just seemed to be moving people through plot. So it goes. Even the best novelists aren’t going to hit a home run every time.
The second Linda Howard novel I bought is one she wrote with another Linda — Linda Jones. The book, Running Wild, is a cowboy novel, which isn’t a genre I particularly like, and it has a bare-chested male torso on the cover, while I like my romance novels more discretely packaged (which is one of the virtues of the Kindle app). Still, with Linda Howard as the main name on the cover page, I thought I’d give it a try.
The book is a mixed bag. Linda Howard always writes romantic thrillers, but the thriller part of Running Wild isn’t very exciting. Our heroine flees a murderous stalker and ends up on a Wyoming ranch where, of course, she finds romance. For the most part, the book is just about her worrying about the stalker, rather than doing anything about the stalker. And when she’s not worrying, she is (of course) lusting after the rancher who is (of course) lusting after her. Worrying and lusting, lusting and worrying — not my idea of the most exciting book in the world.
The book suddenly picks up energy, though, when it comes to guns. You see, Carlin, our heroine is being stalked by a rogue cop — he’s armed and she, because she’s on the run, is not. Part of the reason she’s on the run is because, as far as she knows, her life under the radar precludes her from buying or carrying guns. Imagine her relief when she discovers that, in Wyoming, things are different. Her enlightenment begins when, after a pathetic punch at the rancher when he scares her, she learns that she can be armed:
“That’s twice you’ve panicked,” he said sharply. “The first time you tried to run. This time you managed a swing that a ten-year-old could have ducked. Considering your situation, why the hell haven’t you taken some self-defense lessons?”
What he said was so far from what she’d been expecting that, for a moment, she scrambled for a reply. She opened her mouth, couldn’t think of an answer, closed it again. Then she shook herself, literally. There were reasons, a couple of very good ones.
“Money. Time. And knowing how to punch someone won’t protect me from a bullet.”
Zeke’s jaw set, his mouth as grim as she’d ever seen it, which was plenty grim. “You need shooting lessons.”
“Why? I don’t have a gun.” And she couldn’t buy one, either, because the background check could possibly alert Brad to her location. She didn’t know enough about background checks, whether they were state or federal, or how easily accessible the data was. She could find out, using Zeke’s computer, but buying a gun would still be problematic.
He gave a cold smile that in no way alleviated the grimness of his expression.
“Getting you a weapon isn’t a problem.”
“But the background check –“
“Doesn’t apply to private sales.”
“Oh.” Suddenly faced with an option that a second ago had seemed impossible, all she could do was swallow. (Running Wild, p. 185).
The message couldn’t be more clear: when the government — or a rogue element in the government — is after you, the only protection you have is through the private marketplace. Close that private marketplace and you, the citizen, are a sitting duck.
The book gets energized again when the ranch owner and his ranch hands give Carlin shooting lessons. After a gun safety lesson, she gets to practice with a shotgun, rifle, revolver and semi-automatic. The semi-automatic (that would be the kind that Democrats want to outlaw) works for her because it’s easy to use. Even better, she can have it with her at all times. She learns this important fact when one of the ranch hands tells her that a pistol will be the most practical weapon for her:
He lifted a pistol, one that looked as if Wyatt Earp would have been proud to haul it around. “She needs something that’s easy to carry, and easy to handle.”
That was easy to carry and handle? Good lord, it was a foot long! The mental picture of herself was so ridiculous she burst out laughing as she pointed at the pistol. “If I wore that in a holster, it would reach of the way to my knee! And it sure wouldn’t go in my purse.”
“Get a bigger purse,” Kenneth advised, which, when she thought about it, was, from a man’s point of view, a completely logical solution — but then, men didn’t carry purses. Neither did she, anymore. If it didn’t go in the pockets of her TEC jacket, or her jeans pockets, then she didn’t carry it, which brought up another issue.
“Wouldn’t I have to get a permit to carry a pistol?” Anything that required a background check was off the table.
“Not in Wyoming,” Zeke said. “Concealed carry is legal.”
Holy cow. That changed everything. She eyed the pistol with renewed interest.
The book’s message isn’t subtle. In California, which has just about the strictest gun laws in America, our heroine would be a sitting duck. In Wyoming, she can buy and have upon her a weapon that will at least give her a fighting chance against an armed assailant.
Unless you’re super picky, Running Wild is a good way to while away a few pleasant hours in romance-land. More than that, I encourage every one of you to spend the $6 or $7 at Costco or Amazon (or wherever) to buy it, just to make a statement that you approve of books that highlight why our Second Amendment rights are so important. And if you know someone at the NRA, maybe you should tell them to put this on their approved NRA fiction list (assuming they have one).
(Also, if you like romantic thrillers, give Linda Howard’s other books a try. I never dislike any of her books, but there are some, such as the ones I listed at the top of this post, that I really love.)