Angel's Gold by Samantha Lee
(Leisure, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4765-9
I wanted to like Samantha Lee's Angel's Gold, I really, really did. The setting - Kansas and the Ozarks following the Civil War - is a bit different, and Lee has researched the area and the era for details that add interest to her narrative. Unfortunately her setting and her research can't overcome an episodic plot, burdened by internal inconsistencies, which dragged on long after I had lost interest.

Angeline Prophet is 18 and has been married to John Prophet since she was 13. Her parents, with their children, were on the way to California when they ran out of money in Circleville, Kansas. Prophet offered to fund their journey if Angeline would marry him, thus enabling him to double the size of the land grant he was homesteading. Angeline agreed because she couldn't bear to see her siblings starving.

Now, just as Prophet wants to consummate the marriage, an injured stranger takes shelter from a tornado on the Prophet farm. John is in Circleville, buying supplies, so Angeline is able to hide Jesse Cole in the root cellar in the barn while the gunshot in his leg heals.

Jesse is looking for the two men who hung his twin brother, Charlie. Abandoned by their parents when they were ten, Charlie and Jesse lived for a couple of years with a harsh old man who took them in as cheap labor. At 13, Charlie ran away, joined a gang, and generally ran wild for four years, until two men named Cross and Doolittle took the law into their own hands and hung him.

Now Jesse is out for revenge, pursued by three thugs who mistake Jesse for his identical twin brother. Charlie, Rawley, Fletch, and Cake stole a Confederate wagon laden with Confederate gold which Charlie then hid. The three are determined to catch up with the man they think is Charlie and force the location out of him.

For her part, Angel (as Jesse calls her) sees Jesse as her way out of an unwanted marriage and the hard life of a settler on the plains of Kansas. More than that, she quickly begins to fall in love with him. Soon the two of them are on the run, fleeing John Prophet and Charlie's gang.

All of this was set up in less than 100 pages, but already I had problems with John Prophet's and Jesse's back-stories. In contrast to John Prophet, Jesse is described as young and attractive. At one point in Jesse and Angel's adventures - and they experience a seemingly unending series of hair's breath escapes - they encounter Wild Bill Hickok, during Hickok's brief tenure as Marshall of Abilene, Texas. According the author's note, that was no earlier than 1871. Since Jesse was at least fifteen when he joined the Confederate army in 1863, that would make him about 23. (He acts 23.)

John Prophet, on the other hand, is described as "a white-headed old coot" who could easily be taken for Angeline's grandfather. Yet he, too, fought in the Civil War. He joined the Army, we're told, after the love of his youth died. "Set to be married, they'd been, when the fever had taken her. They'd both been so young and full of dreams." If he was, say, 22 in 1862, he is now 31. Hardly grandfatherly. Apparently time has not been as kind to John Prophet as it has been to Jesse Cole.

The problem with this sort of illogicality is that it diverts the reader's attention away from the plot and toward working out the arithmetic of the characters' histories. Even so, if this had been the only inconsistency in the plot, I could probably have skimmed over it. In two other instances, however, first Angeline, then Jesse, changed their minds on a significant matter with little or no authorial groundwork laid for the change. Particularly in Angel's case, her sudden qualms at deserting John Prophet for Jesse seem only a writer's ploy to extend her story, a story that had already outlived my interest.

In Angel's Gold Lee has given us a story with a great deal of plot. Unfortunately, plot alone does not result in an entertaining narrative. More emphasis on character development and less on narrow escapes might have resulted in a less boring story. As it is, unless the period and setting have a special interest for you - unless, for instance, you live in Circleville, Kansas - I cannot recommend Angel's Gold

--Nancy J. Silberstein

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