Walking on Air
I picked this book up and put it down at least five times before I read it straight through. The initial premise put me off and at the time I was fixated on working my way through the backlist of another author and really did not want to read anything else at the time. I thought that if I had to force myself to read this book, then I would not be doing it the justice it deserved. So I read what I was fixated on and then came back to Walking on Air. I am glad that I did wait, because once I got through the cheesy first part of the book, this novel turned into a keeper for me.
Gabriel Valance is a gunslinger, one who drifted into the “profession” not because he was out to make a name for himself, but because he doesn’t think he is good for much else in his life. He was also born to a prostitute and a wealthy man who had nothing to do with his life until he died and made Gabriel a wealthy man. But even enormous wealth could not erase the bleakness from the hero’s life. He has been in Random, Colorado for about a month with no real aim and making no lasting connections when he finds himself going into the local bar for a drink on Christmas Eve. Upon leaving the bar, Gabriel is distracted by the sight of a woman in a window lighting candles on a Christmas tree. While he becomes entranced and then maudlin at the sight, a purported young gun who wants to make a name for himself calls Gabriel out on the streets of Random. Gabriel is tired of his life and doesn’t really do much to protect himself, but instinct has him shooting at the younger man.
The result is the death of both men. Gabriel realizes he is dead when he is faced with the angels Michael and Gabriel. At this point, Anderson sort of takes a page from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but instead of Gabriel’s life passing before his eyes, he is shown the lives of three people he can help if he does not want to spend eternity in hell. One is a bitter old man who has lost his wife and all of his children. Another is an orphaned boy whose prostitute mother has abandoned him, and the third is a lady who has run away with her younger sister from a murder she does not realize she never committed. As this is a romance, Gabriel chooses door number three, leading to Nancy Sullivan/Hoffman. The angels send him back to earth one month prior to his death with the directive to get Nan Hoffman to fall in love with him. If he is successful, when he dies again, he will go to heaven instead of hell.
Nan Hoffman has been keeping her past at bay for eight years. Born into a wealthy family, Nan’s father cared much more about his position in society than he did about his wife and offspring. When Nan’s mother dies giving birth to her sister Laney, Mr. Sullivan is disgusted that his wife could not even provide him with a son and takes no interest in his daughters. He finally finds a use for Nan when Horace Barclay, one of his business associates, shows an interest in Nan and wants to marry her. Nan is disgusted by this man and wants no part of a marriage to him. In order to force the marriage, Mr. Sullivan leaves Nan alone with the suitor and does not come to her rescue when Barclay tries to rape her. When Nan attempts to protect herself with a knitting needle, Barclay stumbles and impales himself on the knitting needle. Thinking she has killed the man, Nan grabs her younger sister Laney and runs away.
After drifting west, Nan stumbles upon the opportunity to purchase a dressmaker’s shop and she and Laney settle in Random. Right before Thanksgiving, Nan is shocked when notorious gunslinger Gabriel Valance enters her shop. She is even more shocked when he uses blackmail in order to get Nan to marry him. She cannot imagine Gabe’s motives other than to get his hands on the small amount of money she has saved over the years and bitterly resents his presence in her life. Gabe has a tall order to fill to make Nan fall in love with him in one month’s time.
I absolutely hate a book where an author attempts to preach at or to the reader. I was so afraid that this book fell into that category and that was the main reason it took me so long to commit myself to reading it. If this had not been a book I was honor bound to review, I would never have gotten past the first 50 pages. I am so glad that I did get past the beginning of this book, because once the author got the angels out of the way and focused on the main characters, this book began to shine. Gabe did not believe he deserved to go to heaven, but he really did not want to go to hell. Other than the fact that he killed men who were trying to kill him, he really was a good person in spite of having no permanent relationships and no real direction in his life. Catherine Anderson slowly reveals Gabe’s character over the course of the book and by the end, I was cheering him on.
Nan took a little longer to warm up to. She was so tightly contained and the only part of herself she was willing to share was her love for her sister Laney. That she was being blackmailed did not help her warm up to Gabe. The one month deadline that Gabe has to overcome seems insurmountable as well as implausible, but Anderson deftly weaves their relationship into one that is organic and believable. And the secondary character of Laney was a hoot and her personality reflects the care that Nan has taken with raising her.
Of course, I cannot give away the ending, but I will state that my emotions were involved to the extent that I cried a little toward the end. The slow beginning lowered the grade this book received from me, but I think most readers who get past that part of the book will be glad they stuck it out to the very end.