The Strange Courtship of Kathleen O’Dwyer

Written by Robert Temple
Review by Elizabeth K. Corbett

Kathleen O’Dwyer is made of stronger mettle than the average woman. In 1828, she travels west to escape the unwanted advances of a widower, the father of one of her students. Most importantly, she is seeking freedom from society and its expectations of her as a woman. She remembers her brutal upbringing in the Boston slums and the sufferings her mother endured. After accepting a teaching position in Santa Fe in New Mexico Territory, she sets out from St. Louis with a cadre of strange men. The journey westward is not without danger, but she is more than willing to brave any challenges. When her fellow travelers arouse the ire of the Comanches, most of the members of the traveling party are wiped out. Kathleen relies upon the help of James Colter, an enigmatic mountain man, who teaches her how to fire a Hawken gun and departs once they get to Taos Pueblo.

Robert Temple immediately pulls you right into the story, and the pacing, with its great balance of action-packed scenes and quieter moments, never feels unnecessarily slow. The characters are memorable and very well written. My favorite was Kathleen herself. I was consistently amazed by how brave she was, especially with all she had to face. Through the author’s atmospheric writing, the world of the Old West comes to life. I was blown away by the vivid descriptions of New Mexico and the Rocky Mountains. It is apparent that Temple did a great deal of research, and it shines through in his writing. I would have liked to see an author’s note to get some insight into his research and motivations behind the book. Overall, this is an enjoyable read.