cover image Sweet Laurel

Sweet Laurel

Millie Criswell / Author Grand Central Publishing $20 (354p) I

In Criswell's second volume in the Flowers of the West (Wild Heather) trilogy about three sisters who leave Kansas in search of good husbands, Laurel Martin travels to frontier Denver to become an opera singer. Not only can't she sing a note worth hearing, she doesn't even have a decent ""pair of hooters,"" the hero observes. Nevertheless, womanizing gambler Chance Rafferty hires her to sing at his Aurora Borealis saloon, among a few other goodies he has planned. It's the old story of the virgin and the rogue. Laurel puts Chance in touch with his heart, and he acquaints her with the ""forbidden area nice women never talked about."" Criswell gets lots of coarse mileage out of innocent Laurel's demimonde pals, including a parrot who squawks, ""How about a poke, sweetie?"" And even in historical context, some readers may be offended by her Aunt Jemima depiction of black characters and the use of the word ""nigger."" (Mar.)