Hemingway once said that the most readable novels were created by what is left out, a fact that Carolyn Davidson uses with masterful intensity in this novel. On the surface, everything proceeds just as it should in a good Western romance, but the reader is constantly aware of the threatening power of a strong, sinister undercurrent.

The heroine, Augusta McBride, represents the archetypal innocence of the good Western woman but she has a secret in her past. Jonathan Cleary represents the classic Code of the West hero who's not quite perfectly good and not at all innocent, but ready to reform his violent ways. The two meet when Augusta is out and about seeking donations for her home for wayward women she's helping to reform. Cleary, who's secretly involved in dangerous connections with outlaws, is stricken by her absolute innocence and beauty. He donates to her cause and then stays nearby to help the women with a great many chores and to actively court Augusta.

The air of suspense in the prose, several heart-touching secondary characters, and a vivid, mythic setting belies the recent rumors of doldrums in the Western romance genre. SENSUAL (Jul., 325 pp., $5.99)

Reviewed by: 
Gerry Benninger