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Midwife paperback coverCarolyn Davidson’s The Midwife, from 1999, is a Harlequin historical western. It’s 1892, and widow Leah Gunderson, almost thirty, is living in the small Minnesota town of her childhood. She takes in laundry, and does a little health care, having learned medical skills growing up with her single mother. Money is tight, and while there is no shortage of eligible bachelors in town, she’s not looking for romance. That doesn’t stop her from enjoying a little eye candy, in the form of married farmer Gar Lundstrom.

One night Gar shows up at her door. His wife is in labour, the doctor won’t come, and Gar’s desperate. Leah reluctantly agrees to help. She’s an experienced midwife, but for some reason she doesn’t want that known. The delivery is difficult, and while the baby is fine, Gar’s wife dies. Gar blames Leah for the death.

He’s soon at her door again, demanding she look after the baby until he can arrange for a live-in housekeeper. Gar claims she owes him, but he also offers to pay, so she accepts. Gar and his school age son become regular visitors. After six months, Gar decides the best solution for everyone is for he and Leah to marry, and he makes a completely practical and utterly unromantic proposal, including a provision for separate bedrooms. Leah’s unimpressed, but fond of the baby and sensible enough to accept the offer, and so the couple are brought together through a well-justified marriage of convenience.

From here the path to true love is easily predicted, and the only question is how they will overcome the obstacles. Gar is gruff and unforgiving, and blames Leah for killing his wife. As for Leah, she has more than one skeleton in her closet.

The sex scenes are narratively appropriate in quantity and quality. The story is well told, with ample period detail, and Leah is a strong character who stands up to Gar and encourages him to become a better husband and father. Character growth is often missing in romances, and always a pleasure to see.  Unfortunately we don’t see it in Leah, but I can forgive that since she’s already a strong capable woman, and I love seeing that.

What I have more trouble forgiving is the ease with which obstacles are overcome. The secrets of Leah’s past are revealed but fizzle out, and the difficult issue of Leah getting the married man she lusted after, following the death of his wife at her hands, is never fully explored. I don’t begrudge the couple their happy ending, but at the risk of seeming cruel, I expected their happiness to be harder to achieve.

Pushing the limits of the bubble bath rating, I’ll call this one a lavender scent that starts strong and pleases you with lots of bubbles, and then eventually you realize you are in tepid water and the scent has faded.

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