"There's a cricket trapped in the kitchen, singing," says a hillbilly aphorism about a good woman in a bad marriage. It's a fitting description of lonely schoolteacher Eleanor Scarborough.

Eleanor marries a backwoods charmer, only to discover he's obsessed with the idea of hidden gold on his land. After a mining accident leaves her a widow, her deceased husband's greedy and ignorant relatives keep her trapped so that the unfound gold remains in the family. Eleanor makes the best of her captivity, though her attempts to escape fail again and again.

Along comes Jed Blackstone, on his way to redeem his family's farm in the next valley. Eleanor's hard-drinking in-laws beat him, steal his horse and money and leave him for dead. Jed crawls uphill to Eleanor's cabin, and together they plot an escape that promises freedom for them both.

Bronwyn Williams delivers an intense romantic journey with dark humor, firecracker prose and flashes of pure Gothic Americana. Warning: This one pulls the reader into hours of straight-through reading. SENSUAL (Aug., $5.25, 299 pp.)

Reviewed by: 
Gerry Benninger