Apr 14, 2015

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

An intriguing blend of history, mystery and romance 


A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley 
Sourcebooks Landmark, April 7 2015
Review copy provided in exchange for this review
Burton Book Review Rating:


For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread — its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal's cipher. But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal's reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn't hold the secrets Sara expects.

It turns out that Mary Dundas wasn’t keeping a record of everyday life, but a first-hand account of her part in a dangerous intrigue. In the first wintry months of 1732, with a scandal gaining steam in London, driving many into bankruptcy and ruin, the man accused of being at its center is concealed among the Jacobites in Paris, with Mary posing as his sister to aid his disguise.

When their location is betrayed, they’re forced to put a desperate plan in action, heading south along the road to Rome, protected by the enigmatic Highlander Hugh MacPherson.
As Mary's tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take... to find the road that will lead her safely home.

Susanna Kearsley is one of those writers that will always intrigue me, if not fascinate me. She writes her books with the same tone which could tend to drag, but if you  immerse yourself in the slower pace you are rewarded with a good story with some special characters. I was a little sad that the last review I wrote for Kearsley's Season of Storms couldn't be all gushy, so reading A Desperate Fortune I went in with a little trepidation. In doing so, I think I prepared myself for her slow, smooth, suck you in style because I was able to read this without feeling like I was going down a rabbit hole (to use a phrase from the book).

The novel features two storylines that went back and forth between the modern day and the year 1732. The year 1732 is when our young diarist Mary Dundas has an adventure with a Scottish rogue and takes part in the Jacobites' mission to protect their own in honor of the exiled king. Mary leaves behind her diary of the intriguing adventures she has while aiding a fugitive, but it is in cipher. This is where our modern day character Sara comes in, who is a genius at codes and has asperger syndrome, making her vulnerable in social situations but makes her more in tune to numbers, meticulousness, and routine.

As Sara travels to Paris to work on decoding the diary, she meets several people who show her kindness and compassion, including a certain Luc Sabran who captured her heart with his "symmetrical smile" and his "perfect blue eyes" -and his adorable son sweetened the package. Luc lives up to the hero status and their romance is a tenderhearted and sweet one, much like the counterpart of Mary and her handsome Scottish protector, though theirs is more of a respectful admiration of each other.

The two narratives of Sara and Mary pleasantly played well off the other, and the ending -particularly for Mary's - was very endearing and just perfect for Mary. I really enjoyed the plotlines and the historical context of the mystery that surrounded the Jacobite Mr. Thomson that Mary was escorting throughout France and eventually leads to Rome where Mary hopes to find her father, and there is an author's note that describes much more in detail about the era.

This was a winner for Kearsley, much to my delight! While it may not be in the  haunting, gothic/suspense feel that I got from some of the author's earlier works, this was enjoyable historical romance and I will remember Hugh Macpherson. And if you've read some of the author's other titles, see if you can find some cameo appearances from those in A Desperate Fortune!

I think my favorite novel is The Shadowy Horses, but I have yet to read The Winter Sea or Mariana. Do you have a favorite?

Read my other reviews of Susanna Kearsley's novels here at Burton Book Review.