I'm normally a Catherine Anderson fan; in fact, she's one of the few authors for whom I'll pay full retail. That being said, her latest paperback is full of problems that made it impossible for me to get lost in the story.
In 1891, Brianna O'Keefe accepts a job in Colorado working as tutor/housekeeper for a rancher who expects her to provide more personal services as well. To keep him at bay, she pretends to be married to a miner named David Paxton,who is supposedly seeking his fortune in Denver. Brianna's daughter, Daphne, is actually her niece, the product of the rape of Brianna's twin sister, Moira. Brianna's employer forces her to write a letter to her "husband" every week, begging him to come back and take care of her and their little girl. Unbeknownst to Brianna, Daphne is also writing to her "daddy." The rancher is supposedly a lecherous pig who only wants to get into Brianna's knickers, yet he keeps her in his employ for nearly six years before he remarries and no longer requires her service. Brianna is forced to get a job with the local dressmaker, but has to take other jobs as well to make ends meet.
All of this is spelled out in the first few pages of Brianna's story, a pastiche of pathos that Horatio Alger would have been hard-pressed to imagine. I can suspend disbelief with the most forgiving of readers, but this book required contortions that even my imagination couldn't make. Nothing makes sense in this story without a huge helping of "just go with it" to choke it down. When David Paxton, sherrif of No Name, Colorado, gets a huge bag of mail from Denver, all sent care of General Delivery, he KNOWS he's never met Brianna, but is so moved by his "daughter's" letter, describing eating out of trash barrels, that he MAILS over $100 to the girl without even a note of explanation. Then, determining that there's no other David Paxton within a 100-mile radius, our hero convinces himself that he might have fathered this child on one of his many drunk-to-the-point-of-passing-out adventures in his younger days, so he travels to Glory Ridge to claim his daughter.
LUCKY PENNY is full of jaw-dropping inconsistencies. Confronted with a man who bears the "very unusual" name of David Paxton, Brianna tries to back-pedal about where her "real" husband might possibly be. Anderson throws in so many unnecessary, jarring details that it's impossible to settle in and enjoy the story. The reader is actually subjected to several pages where Brianna accuses David of being a white slaver, intent on selling her beautiful blonde daughter to Mexicans. Daphne's letters to David are misspelled in ways that would make a rapper proud. Brianna has $2 put aside for her rent, one-fourth of which she allegedly found on the floor of the restaurant where she works at night to make ends meet. I could have swallowed Daphne and David meeting when they bumped heads over a penny on the street, but I can't buy someone losing 50 cents at a time when that was a lot more than chump change, and Anderson makes it worse when Daphne says she always buys candy with the pennies she finds on the street, as if this poor mining community has an unending supply of misplaced money just waiting for impoverished heroines to find. Meanwhile, David instantly accepts that Daphne is his daughter because she looks just like his mother and even has the Paxton family birthmark, which Brianna insists is a burn from an incident when Daphne was an infant, because, after all, burn scars and birthmarks are so similar.
Things get even more unbelievable when David and Brianna consult the local judge for a ruling on custody of Daphne. The most ignorant of readers could drive a truck through the holes in that scene, and it just keeps getting worse. Anderson's use of anachronistic psycho-babble (Daphne has low self-esteem from being teased by her schoolmates) is another flaw. David is supposed to be a man who knows how to censor himself around children, yet he uses the word "arse" not once but twice within a few minutes of meeting his young daughter.
Even so, all might have been forgiven if not for the fact that Brianna is just not a sympathetic heroine. She's dour and judgmental, surrounded by people who are mean to her just so the reader can see what a rose among thorns she is. Her boss at the dress shop is nasty and unkind and has no dress sense, a problem for which Brianna would offer advice if only Mrs. Martin were nicer to her. Her former boss wanted to sleep with her, and her boss at the restaurant is constantly trying to grope her, even though he's married. Brianna hardly ever eats, yet her clothes are too tight and straining across her ample bosom because they're relics of her younger days before she developed her womanly figure. Anderson piles pitiful image on top of gratuitous pathos to no avail. The action of the book takes place over about six weeks, which makes certain plot developments improbable if not downright implausible. Deus ex machina collides with shameless coincidence for a head-scratching denouement that leaves the reader feeling like she's been swindled by a street-corner card shark.
Catherine Anderson has written many books that belong on readers' keeper shelves, but LUCKY PENNY is not one of them. Fans of previous books might be happy to revisit old friends, like David's brother Ace, but they'll have to be forgiving indeed to look past everything that is wrong with this book. This is one lucky penny you might not want to rush to pick up.