The Gate to Eden
Some might think that the primitive conditions, struggle, and poverty of settlers in the Old West makes for an unromantic setting and in the wrong hands I can see where this would be true. Still, if done right, the West makes a spectacular backdrop for stories of strong, almost larger than life people making a life for themselves and falling deeply in love. Cathy McDavid’s tale of an impoverished widow struggling to make a living for herself and her deaf daughter is one of hardship, but ultimately also one of love and joy.
Maddie Campbell, like the other women of Eden, lost her husband to a mining disaster. The unscrupulous practices of the mine’s owner then forced her out of her home and into a shantytown where she and the other women who had nowhere else to go struggle to make a living for themselves. Some of them have been able to secure jobs in town, while the others tend to the children of the village. In addition, the women of Eden also augment their meager earnings by robbing the mine owners and those connected with them.
The mine owner has brought private investigator Scott McSween to town to catch the mysterious bandits. Scott is certain he will be able to unmask the man behind the crimes before moving on to his next town and next job, but he doesn’t count on his attraction to Maddie Campbell. Maddie is torn between her loyalty to her fellow widows in Eden and her own appreciation of Scott – not to mention her fear of exposure as one of the local bandits.
McDavid’s writing stands out because she manages to show the gritty realities of life for Maddie and yet she also gives readers a romantic story. Unlike the saintly lady bandits/smugglers/spies I’ve read in other historicals, Maddie faces moral dilemmas in what she does. She is not playing at anything, but really gets her hands dirty just like the rest of her band. The society set up by the widows of Eden is organized in a way that strains credibility at times, but Maddie’s inner conflicts and her budding relationship with Scott are touching. Even as I rolled my eyes at the sisterhood of the shantytown, I also found myself enjoying Maddie and Scott’s characters.
The pacing of this story flows nicely as well. There is plenty of action and drama, but time is also devoted simply to Scott and Maddie’s relationship, a balance many readers will appreciate. The plight of the mine widows is compelling and their efforts to eke out a living make for some interesting reading. In contrast, Scott’s determination to win Maddie’s heart is a spot of brightness in this bleak setting. Though Scott’s dark circumstances aren’t as readily visible as Maddie’s, they still exist and seeing Scott and Maddie heal each other makes for a very sweet tale.
McDavid’s story reminds us that beauty, joy, and hope can be found even in the harshest of places. In addition to a good adventure with an ending worthy of an old-fashioned melodrama, she gives readers a truly likable and hopeful love story. If you’re a fan of Westerns or if you simply want a chance to try a historical with a different setting, check this one out.