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Halfway to Heaven    by Susan Wiggs order for
Halfway to Heaven
by Susan Wiggs
Order:  USA  Can
Mira, 2001 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Abigail Cabot is more than content to spend her evenings locked away in her observatory, gazing at the heavens, charting new stars or elusive comets, and conversing with her long-deceased mother. But being the daughter of one of Washington's most prominent politicians a man she hungers to please) leaves Abigail committed to various obligations, like attending the wedding of a fellow politician's daughter. She detests public outings because she's always being compared to her beautiful and vivacious older sister, Helena. Theirs is the typical beautiful swan and ugly duckling story, and, as usual, the Washington elite never miss the opportunity to remind Abigail of her many shortcomings. Better to escape to the lush rose gardens and continue her stargazing than suffer more whispered remarks and pitying stares.

James Calhoun, recently elected Congressman, is busy trying to seduce the president's sister when Abigail stumbles upon them. Shocked and embarrassed, she rushes back inside, Jamie in leisurely pursuit. Poor Abigail is so distressed by what she'd almost witnessed, and by the uncharacteristic feelings she experiences, that she almost falls headlong into the wedding cake. Luckily Jamie saves her from herself before she embarrasses herself further. Amused by this 'pathetic creature's' naiveté, cynical Jamie decides to become her champion, at least for the evening. He soon discovers she's the daughter of Franklin Cabot and decides it might be in his best interests to befriend the young woman, since he needs Cabot's help to stymie a planned railroad expansion in his district. When Abigail reveals her unrequited love for young Boyd Butler, the vice president's handsome son, Jamie can't believe his good fortune, and smoothly offers to help Abigail win Butler's heart. But what at first is nothing more than a game to gain political support, soon spirals out of control. Jamie discovers there is much more to Miss Abigail Cabot that he anticipated, and finds himself more and more attracted to this shy swan in disguise.

Susan Wiggs has created another quiet gem in this delightful period piece. In her capable hands she's taken two familiar character types, the 'manipulative cynic with a dark secret' and the 'dowdy second daughter', and given them rare dimension. Indeed, her characters are wonderful. But Jamie and Abigail outshine them all, first as they spend many hours together trying to plan the perfect way to 'catch Boyd', and then as they realise, with a certain amount of disbelief and soul-searching, that catching Boyd is no longer the real issue. Both struggle to deny their feelings, but of course, by the story's climax, each is wearing his or her heart on their respective sleeve. Halfway to Heaven is certain to leave readers starry-eyed and eagerly awaiting the sequel, featuring sister Helena.

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