I always try to have high hopes for each new book I pick up, even one with a cover as awful as this one has: a clinch, he’s stripped to the waist, her dress is literally falling off, his buns are crooked, she appears to be giving a chiropractic adjustment to his painfully twisted neck, the sneer on her passion-filled face looks more like a vampire with a snotty attitude. The good news: some books are better than their covers. The bad news: this isn’t one of them.
By page 50, Heaven Sent had already hit the D mark. No place to go but up, right? The good news: some books start out badly and get better. The bad news: this isn’t one of them. It’s one of those westerns where the nauseatingly spunky heroine, dressed in boy’s clothing and hefting a loaded rifle, tries to “sound rattlesnake mean” when she orders the hero to “git up varmint” as she kidnaps him to force him to marry her sister. When he starts “bellyachin’ about manners” as he protests that he is not the “low lyin’ dog” who knew her sister “a mite too well” and got the aforementioned sister “in a family way,” she responds with, “tarnation!”
Do I need to outline the story for you? Have you not read it a thousand times already? Um, dagnabbit?
Matilda Rose Applebee (Matty) has left home in search of the man who, to hear her sister Phoebe tell it, got her pregnant. Cooper T. Davis of the deep green eyes and the drummer’s wagon, who is really a Pinkerton Agent in disguise, insists he never even met Phoebe, let alone knew her “in the Biblical sense.”
Whoa! Hold yer horses right there. This is 1868 California. The Pinkerton Detective Agency (which came to prominence during and after the Civil War mostly for doing governmental dirty work) operated in the East and Midwest out of Chicago almost exclusively until nearly 1890. While the author has Coop’s agency based in San Francisco, he has been given the responsibility of working the whole of California. This is very shaky ground (and I’m not speaking seismically). I’ve done a lot of research and haven’t found even one reference that the Pinkerton Agency operated in this way in California this early. The good news: All the books I have on law and order in the Old West could be wrong. The bad news: given other errors in historical accuracy in this book, I’d have to question Coop’s involvement as a Pinkerton in a small-time water rights feud.
So, okay, if you accept the premise that Coop’s a Pinkerton and that Matty has tracked this guy for nine days and really expects a man twice her weight and a head taller is going to find her rifle a genuine threat and go back home with her to marry a girl he’s never met. . .then I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in buying.
Well, I kept reading and hoping, but within a few pages, my hopes were dashed against the jagged rocks of Point Plucky. Coop and Matty are set upon by five armed, masked outlaws. Coop basically says, Take the money and leave us be. But insanely feisty Matty stands up in the wagon, grabs her rifle and pronounces, “You’re nothin’ but big bullies. . .why don’t you just move on and pick on someone your own size!” Somebody shoot this woman.
It is at that juncture I put the book down. Again. I waited a while, then I picked it up. I’m an adult. I can do this. But, by that time, I didn’t care if Matty got Coop back home. I didn’t care if Matty was pulled down from that wagon and trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. I didn’t care about these people because after nearly a third of the book, they were simply words on a page and not characters I could care about at all.
In addition to the problems above, the language, when it isn’t being uber-colloquial, is anachronistic. Men in the 1860’s West didn’t suspect somebody of having a “boot fetish.” Coop refers to Matty as a “poor man’s Calamity Jane.” Note to author: Calamity Jane, who would have turned sixteen in 1868 and was on a wagon train headed west from Missouri at the time, didn’t become famous until the 1870’s and didn’t even earn the name Calamity Jane until 1873. The good news: Coop’s middle name is Nostradamus. The bad news: Coop’s middle name is not Nostradamus.
Dutifully, I completed the book and lived to tell about it. In all honesty, Heaven Sent isn’t a bad book, it’s just a dumb book. Coop and Matty have their moments (which was all that kept this book from being graded an F), but the characters are so flat and the plot so thin, it’s like reading a not-very-good comic book. I mean, what’s the point of a historical if you’re not going to even try to be historically accurate?