Author Joann Pence gave me a list of books to potentially review, and I selected Dance With a Gunfighter right away. The title immediately brings to mind an incongruous image of a hardened bad guy...dancing to the sound of fiddles. I figured this couldn't possibly be what takes place -- the "dance" referred to has got to mean some sort of exciting Western shoot-out occurs. I was wrong about that, but this book didn't disappoint.
There are a lot of dances in this book. There is the very real, literal dance referenced by the title. It's a romantic little scene: young girl, sweet sixteen, at her first dance. She's a wallflower, and doesn't expect to get asked to dance. Something about her touches the hardest man in the room, a gunfighter by the name of Jess.
This is where the book gets confusing right away. The girl's name is Gabriella, but she's a tomboy so she goes by Gabe. The guy's name is Jess. It's two neutral names, and I have the focus of a squirrel so I spent the first 50 pages trying to figure out who was saying what to whom. My inner monologue is playing along the entire time, asking "did the girl or the guy just say that?" after every fourth sentence. But once you get that part of it down, there's still a whole lot of plot to get through.
Maybe too much. In some spots, this book tens to drag. The constant push-pull between the characters is true to the genre, and I get that, but it's way, way too much and way too drawn out. The inference is there that their love is passionate, but it takes months and years for the couple to get together in any sort of tangible way. He walks out on her, more than once, which is a bit self-defeating on the story's part. In romances, as a woman I'm supposed to fall a little bit in love with the hero of the story. I was never close to falling in love with Jess -- whose main physical attribute seemed to be a ragged blonde mustache -- and never really identified with Gabe.
This isn't a traditional romance story, though some of the basic formula is there. In this case, the couple faces way too many obstacles and challenges. Remember what I said about a lot of plot? Most of it is strictly designed to keep the main couple apart, sometimes in totally unbelievable ways that are just too contrived. At one point, the couple flees from a gang of bandits straight into the blistering desert. One of them is grievously wounded, and this is clearly just bad planning. Well of course they run straight into a mean band of Apaches, because that's likely, and instead of being murdered right away they're held captive for several months. This is all done on the promise than an exciting action/fight scene will soon occur, but this of course never manifests because this of course wasn't the point of that extremely long scene. The author really had to stretch to come up with new and bigger obstacles to throw between the couple.
Other types of dances do occur, and the promised gun scenes do manifest. There is a lot of action in the book, which you'd expect in an Old West setting, but there are mystery elements as well. The author shows her writing roots in the form of a few head-turning twists.
There's a lot the author got right. She researched her desert cuisine very well, and I was only able to find one tense error and a handful of run-on sentences -- and you know how I look for that sort of thing. Many of the scenes between the couple are sweet and touching. It's a story mainly about emotional pain, and how that affects us, and how it defeats and changes us. Weaving a love story into all that is no easy writing feat, so if some things don't feel so smooth I guess that's to be expected.
This is a good romance with plenty of heart and sweetness, some mystery and action sprinkled in along the way. If you're into that sort of thing, you'll definitely appreciate this finely-edited, well-written tale of revenge and romance.
Find Dance with a Gunfighter on Amazon!