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The heroine of this third and decreasingly engaging installment in the McDade Cycle (Lily, 1992; Looking for Lily, not reviewed) is a young woman who gets into trouble in small-town Texas of the 1890's as she follows her heart rather than her head. As the story begins, Dellie, Lily's younger sister, has been married for two years to Daniel O'Barr, a local farmer and lawyer. Daniel is kind and generous but often absent, leaving Dellie restless and bored. At a picnic celebrating a reunion of local Confederate veterans, she meets handsome Andy Ashland, her father's tenant farmer, who delivers a fiery speech in favor of Populism. Four days later, her father, dying of cancer, commits suicide. Dellie, who had married Daniel in part to escape Papa's harsh ways, finds it difficult to grieve. Increasingly attracted to Andy, she starts attending local Populist meetings to hear him speak, begins writing for the Populist paper, and (when her husband is out of town) she spends time with Andy and his two children. Andy is married, but his wife is hospitalized in an Austin asylum; he is also heavily in debt, especially to local merchant Louis Bassist, whom he accuses of usury. Soon deeply smitten, Dellie follows Andy to Austin for a tryst and decides to divorce Daniel. When Andy leaves town, she impulsively sets Bassist's store on fire and flees to Louisiana, hoping to meet up with her lover there. When he fails to come, she returns to McDade to give herself up. Dellie and Daniel reconcile. She's tried and imprisoned for arson, finding some consolation in becoming an ardent Suffragist. In always nicely evoked period settings, Dellie tries hard to be strong, sexy, and politically progressive, but she never quite comes alive either as a ""new woman"" or a heartwrenching romantic.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1996
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Algonquin