the devil you know


After a horse drags him through the countryside, Israel McKenna awakes bruised and battered in a field in Pancake Valley, Colorado. He can recall where he came from and where he was going, but the memory of how he came to be on the Pancake homestead eludes him. He’s certain he did something wrong to deserve such a harsh punishment—and so is the beautiful woman who reluctantly comes to his aid.


Wilhelmina “Willa” Pancake must focus on running her family’s ranch. With Israel’s hazy memory, she is unsure if she can trust him, let alone handle the budding attraction between them. And as men fight to steal her land and the truth about Israel’s past rides toward them, love is a risk she cannot easily take.


Publisher and Release Date: Berkley 3 May, 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Colorado, 1891
Genre: Western Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

What she finally acknowledged, reluctantly and unhappily, was that Israel McKenna reminded her she was a woman.

Israel McKenna awakes half-dead on land owned by the Pancake family in Colorado. His hands have been tied and he’s been dragged through the countryside and left for dead. Lucky for him he’s discovered by young Annalea Pancake who raises the alarm. Brought back to the homestead and nursed back to health by Wilhelmina (Willa), Annalea’s older sister, Israel gradually recovers physically, but part of his memory remains elusively out of reach. He can remember leaving Chicago, but nothing between then and being found. And not what happened to him, who did it or why.

At twenty-four years-old, Willa is on the shelf. Not that she hasn’t had offers, but between running the ranch, raising Annalea, and keeping her father out of jail and the saloon, she has her hands full. Due to his hazy memory, Israel doesn’t really know why or how he ended up on Pancake land, except that someone wanted him dead. He also knows instinctively that he’s not a good and honourable man. But as he spends time at the ranch, he earns the trust and respect of Willa’s family and those who work there. Initially wary, Willa begins to see that Israel may be more than just a handsome face and broad set of shoulders.

Set in Colorado in 1891, the story brings together the hardworking and responsible Willa Pancake and the self-proscribed villain and liar, Israel McKenna. Known for her slow-paced, character-driven romances, Jo Goodman once again gives readers a study of personality and what motivates a man (and woman) and how their upbringings mould and influence the people they become. Readers who like a faster pace or more action may get impatient, but one of the joys of Ms Goodman’s writing is the slow unravelling of not just the plot, but the characters. Her villains likewise, are not the standard, one-dimensional cutouts. Malcolm Barber and his son, Eli whose land adjoins the Pancakes, are nuanced characters.

The Devil You Know is a companion novel to last year’s title This Gun for Hire, which featured Israel’s younger brother, Quill. We catch up with Quill and his wife, Calico – bounty hunter of some repute – who go searching for Israel after not hearing from him.

I have only one issue with this story, and it’s the same one I always seem to have with this author’s titles. Contractions. Or the lack of them, in both the narrative and dialogue. I don’t know whether it’s simply because I read ARCs of her books, or maybe that’s how people spoke back then and that’s what she’s wanting to convey. But the lack of contractions lends a formality to the story that often comes off as stilted and lacking the naturalness of everyday speech.

That minor quibble aside, The Devil You Know is another fine read from Ms Goodman, one of the top authors currently writing western historical romances. With some unexpected turns and surprises unleashed along the way, this is a recommended read for fans of western romances.


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