Gabriel's Heart by Madeline George
(Harlequin Historical #405, $4.99, R)
ISBN 0-373-29005-5
First-time author Madeline George brings a fresh, honest voice to this tried-and-true formula romance. Although I believe the author's writing shows a great deal of insight into human character, I have to admit, at times, I found the heroine to be a bit difficult to like or understand. And, even though I believe that the overall quality of writing is very good, I did have a few problems with the pace and the structure of this story.

Gabriel Hart thought he had put Otis Blackburn in prison for good, but Blackburn escapes and murders Gabriel's beloved, pregnant wife while a seriously wounded Gabriel can only watch. A year later, barely recovered from his wounds, Gabriel is boarding a train for Silver Falls, Colorado, looking for Blackburn; looking for vengeance. While boarding the train, Gabriel passes Trina McCabe and Trina, noting Gabriel's handsome form, is suddenly very happy that she did not accept a ring from her current suitor even though it would have been fun to have a big ring and a big wedding.

Traveling with her father to Silver Falls, Trina tries every trick she can think of to make Gabriel notice her, with little success. While Gabriel finds Trina attractive and admires her feistiness, he also notes that she is spoiled and immature. However, once he discovers that someone is trying to harm Trina's father and that there maybe a connection between Amos McCabe and Otis Blackburn, Gabriel finds himself assisting Trina in protecting her father.

I'll admit, it took me a while to warm up to Trina; her mean-spirited treatment of her suitor in the first chapter made me certain that I was not going to like her. However, Ms. George does a fine job of making Trina a very human young woman showing all sides of her, good and bad. The author also allows you to understand that Trina, the motherless, only girl, in a family of men would be naturally be spoiled rotten. During the late 1900's, a young girl in her circumstances would probably be very much like Trina.

Besides, it's hard not to develop some fondness for a young girl that knows what she wants and goes after it. The author also carefully develops the character so that you can see how loving Gabriel changes Trina; put simply, she grows up. Still, I can't say that I always understood Trina, especially when she starts feeling sorry for the murderous Blackburn. Yes, Blackburn has a sad and tragic past, but I couldn't drum up one iota of sympathy for a man who could slit an innocent woman's throat without a second thought.

Which leads me to another problem I had with this story, the abrupt transition between the gruesome prologue, depicting the murder of Gabriel's wife, and the oft times humorous and lighthearted moments on the train ride to Silver Falls. Even though the author tells us that more than a year has passed, I couldn't shake that sick-to-my-stomach feeling concerning Gabriel's wife and what happened to her so quickly. I needed more time to let go of the strong, negative feelings invoked by the prologue before I could appreciate the humorous exchanges between Trina and Gabriel during the train ride.

Finally, I feel the ending is just too slow and gets a little off track. To some extent the author uses the time to show the development of Trina as an adult woman in love, and how her relationship with Gabriel has deepened into something very meaningful. However, you also spend a lot of time with her suddenly-introduced-into-the-story brothers me thinks we will be seeing more McCabes in Ms. George's future works. When the author moves away from the central characters and onto the heroine's brothers there's little doubt that the story is pretty much over.

Still, I found that I liked Ms. George's writing style; it's very honest and direct, and her characters reflect her style. The author also provides a number of insightful moments regarding her characters and human nature in general. So even though I did not always agree with some of those insights, I can't help but respect the author's honest, earthy approach to telling the story that is Gabriel's Heart.

--Judith Flavell

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