Heart of Texas
Heart of Texas is a bland, unmemorable novel that has nothing particular to recommend it. I might as well be repeating the words of colleagues who have reviewed others of O’Banyon’s books, but loathe as I am to do so, the unsurprising plot and wooden dialogue, as well as the half-hearted hero and heroine left me no choice. While there is no one reason to despise this book particularly, I deplore the lack of effort I feel went into its creation.
The story opens in Colorado Territory in 1867 as the leader of the wagon train tries to convince Casey Hamilton to return to where she came, now that her father has been killed. Casey and her family are on their way to an inherited ranch in Texas called the Spanish Spur, sure that once they reach this place that their situation will improve. She is a stubborn character who is determined to make a good life for her younger brother and sister Sam and Jenny. Their mother died when she was fourteen and she has pretty much raised them herself, and with her father gone, there is no choice but for them to trudge onwards.
When they leave the wagon train, they run into some trouble and are rescued by a “tall, powerful and lean” stranger with “coal-black hair.” He is fooled by Casey’s ruse that her husband is not far off, and once he sets them on their way, Casey hopes not to see him again. However, what she isn’t counting on is that their new home is very neglected, their neighbour is on a crusade to frighten them off and swallow up their land into his own holdings, and their only ally is Casey’s uncle’s old friend Kate, who still lives on the ranch. Working together, Casey and Kate manage to make the place habitable. But Casey suspects the ranch is burdened with sizable debts, and her neighbour has frightened off any of the locals who might have come to work for her. She is left with no other choice than to hire Gabe, the mysterious stranger who rescued their wagon. However, Gabe is keeping a dangerous secret.
The characters are two-dimensional. Casey is TSTL. She’s not only clueless about real-life matters and apparently blind to Gabe’s big secret, she’s also ridiculously naive about that other feeble plot line involving the land-hungry neighbour, whom she brings apple pie, and whose very real threatening behavior she mostly ignores. She even goes so far as to fire all the trustworthy hands Gabe has brought on board when she finally learns his mysterious secret and decides he’s no good. This leaves her all alone with two young siblings defending her ranch from the bloodthirsty neighbor. In Gabe’s efforts to keep Casey from harm, he brings in two of his Indian friends, Omous and Flint. Two less realistic characters I have never seen. They stay out of sight and track Casey’s movements, making comments about how Casey must be “Gabe’s woman.” Jenny and Sam are stock characters, too. They are supposed to be cute, but having seen them in many other western genre novels I can only say “yawn.”
As far as the development of their romance, Gabe resists Casey’s charms because, although he loves her, he feels he’s not good enough for her (the big secret, you know). She also loves, him, and keeps throwing herself at him. This made for many cringe-worthy scenes where Casey decides “now is the time” and makes her move, only for him to reject her. He also doesn’t tell her he loves her and many a big misunderstanding ensues. However, he frequently breaks out into flowery romantic speeches. For example:
“I have walked in the darkness for so long. I want to bask in the light of your smile. Until I met you, my life was the same. Now the simple touch of your hand can get me through a whole day.”
Such sentiments are matched in cheese-factor only by the stiltedness that marks O’Banyon’s dialogue the whole way through. It would probably have helped if her characters ever abbreviated words or used slang, but the sort choppy sentences and unrealistic choice of words certainly didn’t bring them to life. Finally, the predictable ending and the way all Casey’s problems were suddenly easily resolved at the end were the last nail in the coffin. I doubt I’ll remember any of these characters in about 24 hours’ time, and can’t say I’m sorry, either. If you’re looking for a good example of a bright, fast-paced Western that makes good use of pertinent historical details and has a dynamite hero and heroine, you won’t find it here.