Eli Watkins is one of the best horsemen in Texas, but most of his money goes to his parents back in Kansas. So when he’s offered a position at Somerfield Ranch that offers more money, he’s quick to jump at the opportunity. He never expects to have his whole world turned upside down by the boss’ son, Samuel.
Always the object of his father’s brutality and scorn, Sam hasn’t known much kindness in his life. He lives in fear of the next beating or his father’s unpredictable moods. When his father finally destroys the one thing Sam treasures most, he is left rudderless and adrift. But in Eli he discovers love without reservation and passionate devotion. Though forced to see one another in secret, Eli and Sam start making plans for a future together. But when Sam’s father discovers their relationship, it will take the strength of their love to salvage their dreams.
Before Sundown was a curious mix of the enjoyable and the absurd. The book had a lot of issues, but they didn’t prevent it from being inviting and even charming at times. The plot is straightforward and pretty predictable, but it’s written with enough character to help it stand out a bit. Though it’s set in 1892, the novel does have something of a timeless quality to it and, save for a few historical tidbits, it could really be set in modern day. While I normally don’t like that in a piece that calls itself a historical, it worked for Before Sundown.
Eli Watkins is a fairly likable character and it’s easy to enjoy his irascible humor and obvious affection for Sam. He reads as an all or nothing sort of man and having given his heart to Sam, he’s willing to risk everything to keep him safe. Both Eli and Sam are a little flat as characters. They are not without dimension, but they don’t have enough fleshing out to be truly strong. Normally I try to champion victims of abuse, but Sam struck me as excessively spineless. I never understood why he doesn’t just leave and start a new life elsewhere. He’s of age and intelligent enough to make his own way in the world so the fact that he allowed himself to be his father’s perpetual whipping boy just didn’t make sense. Am I being too hard on Sam? Probably, and I’m willing to concede that, but his character was difficult to connect with on several levels.
It’s somewhat comical to even refer to the emotion between Sam and Eli as love because it happens at such a ludicrous speed. Following a single night they spend holed up in a storm, they are utterly devoted to one another. And we’re talking a Romeo and Juliet level of devotion here. The depth of their affection is simply unrealistic and never really comes off the page as anything more than melodrama. The prose, at times is decidedly purple and there were several instances where I was laughing aloud at situations that were clearly supposed to be serious. The entire book has the feel of a soap opera and, while those can certainly be enjoyable, it’s a hard to see them as anything less than silly. I suspect Beyond Sundown was trying to convey a more serious tone but just never quite managed it.
Sam’s father is a something of a caricature. We’re told that following the death of his wife and second son he became a monster, but as a character he doesn’t have much depth. As a result his machinations involving Sam’s future and his abject cruelty, while revolting, also fail to ring completely true. He’s a bad guy because the plot requires one, but otherwise doesn’t add much to the book.
I suspect readers who appreciate the classic cowboy trope will enjoy more than a few parts of Before Sundown. It’s far from perfect though and suffers from over the top writing and characters that never quite fully evolve. The romance is sweet and not without its charm, but develops at such an unbelievable pace as to be a little ridiculous. This one left me wanting a bit more but others might find it more to their liking.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.