A Glimpse of Heaven
A Glimpse Of Heaven is mostly enjoyable. Its main characters are well developed, and the premise is definitely out of the ordinary. Some of its scenes are breathtakingly haunting, and, although marred by a rushed opening and a conclusion that is somewhat unsatisfactory, this book is worth reading.
The prologue of A Glimpse Of Heaven contains a lifetime’s worth of troubles including: The Battle of Waterloo, the hero’s realization that war is hell, a flashback of the hero’s brother’s death, the fatal wounding of his best friend Alfred, a pledge to look after Alfred’s widow, a breakup with a disgusting married mistress, a near fatal wound and a “near death” experience. This all happens by page ten. Whew!
Burke Grisham, the Earl of Thornwald, is the hero who goes though that frenetic prologue. Everything that is introduced there makes him decide to reform his life. He does this by retiring to his Yorkshire estate. After a year he decides it is time to honor his pledge to Alfred and look after Catherine Snow, his friend’s widow.
Catherine detests Burke. She blames him for Alfred’s death and for the dissolute life her husband led before he died. Catherine had loved her husband but the marriage had been unhappy. Alfred had left her frequently for trips to London to drink and gamble. Catherine knew that she had competition for her husband’s attention, and she knew that Burke had been more of an influence on him than she had been. When Burke shows up to protect her interests, she is understandably hostile.
Burke discovers that Catherine has been made into a kind of Cinderella character, doing domestic chores for her wicked mother-in-law and two selfish sisters-in-law. Catherine can’t wait to get rid of Burke, but her social climbing mother-in-law is not about to let an Earl out of the house when she has two eligible daughters to marry off, so Burke becomes a welcome guest.
Besides his pledge to Alfred, Burke has another reason to want to know Catherine. Since Alfred’s death, he has been having unsettling visions, almost as though he was experiencing some of Alfred’s memories. Burke desperately needs to know what is happening. Is he going mad? Could Alfred be communicating with him on some level?
Catherine Snow is an immensely likable character. She is believable and has a strong presence. Her marriage to Alfred had probably been a rake’s whim. Catherine had been a governess living nearby and, as the local aristocrat, he had tried to seduce her. Failing that he had proposed and they’d run off to Gretna Green. Naturally Alfred’s parents were appalled but had been unable to undo the marriage. When Burke arrives, Catherine is at the mercy of her mother-in-law who treats her as though she were the housekeeper.
Catherine’s hatred of Burke is understandable. When the author reveals the details of Alfred’s betrayal of his wife and Burke’s involvement, it is as grim as anything in romance. It would be a disservice to spoil the story by telling it here but this book contains the most heartbreaking scene of debauchery that I’ve read since Karen Ranney’s excellent Upon A Wicked Time.
The resolution of A Glimpse Of Heaven is not as satisfying as it should be. Through the story we are given glimpses of Catherine and Alfred’s marriage in the form of Catherine’s memories and Burke’s flashbacks. These scenes make it obvious why Alfred was filled with such guilt and regret before his death. Always we are trying to figure out why Alfred, who seemed like such a well-meaning man, treated his wife so badly. By the time I was three quarters of the way through the book the reason seemed obvious. It was tragic and it would have made sense.
But we are not given the ending that Dawson Smith has led us to expect. There are lots of clues in the book that lead us to the “surprise” ending, but as presented, they do not adequately explain Alfred’s behavior toward his wife. I was left wondering if Barbara Dawson Smith had written one ending and, for reasons of political correctness, had had it changed by an editor.
In spite of these flaws, I recommend A Glimpse Of Heaven. The premise of a hero being able to look into the past of the heroine is an intriguing one. Catherine Snow, with her humble beginnings, is a unique and compelling heroine. This is my second Barbara Dawson Smith book. Last year I also enjoyed Too Wicked To Love. I’ll be looking for more in the future.