Monday, June 8, 2015

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

First Sentence:  My cousin didn’t try to catch the bride’s bouquet.
      
Having Asperger’s Syndrome, Sara Thomas finds it is much easier to work on her own.  A computer programmer, she uses Sudoku as a way to control her episodes.  Given the the challenge of breaking a cipher, which she does in 17 seconds, leads her to a job within a family home in Paris deciphering and translating the journal of Mary Dundas, a Jacobite exile yearning for freedom, and a place to belong.  Divided by centuries, these two women have their own puzzles to solve while on journeys of self-discovery.
      
Kearsley is an absolute delight to read.  She introduces us to an interesting, unusual character creating an immediate affinity, and then adds a very intriguing puzzle.
      
Her evocative descriptions allow us to walk into the middle of a scene…”It was, I thought, the perfect postcard view of what an English village green should look like, right down to the pond at the far corner, with its trailing golden willows and its noisy scrambling ducks…”  Yet it’s the details of something seemingly insignificant, such as a man and his gun-shy Gordon Setter, that make such a difference…”He took his glove off when he shook my hand—the mark, my father always said, of a true gentleman.”
      
Kearsley does a wonderful job of providing a very concise, yet informative, lesson on Scottish history and the Jacobites.  She also brings characters across from past books, but in a way that someone reading this, and no other, aren’t left wondering.  Sara, our present day protagonist, is a very interesting character and the information on Asperger’s is fascinating but included in such a way that is natural and fits with the flow of the story.  Luc, to whom Sara is attracted, is a bit too good to be true, yet he is neither egotistical nor overbearing.  However, it is through him that we learn interesting about French laws related to children and the school schedule. 
      
The dialogue is excellent, capturing the structure of English, French, and Scots characters.  There are lovely descriptions of meals, from the simple snack of bread with lots of butter, chocolate and milk or coffee, to a festive dinner…”We had champagne and oysters, smoked salmon on toast and roast pork and a platter of delicate cheeses, with wines for each course and a chocolate log cake for the finish.
      
While dual time-period stories can often be frustrating, Kearsley handles them beautifully.  The character and plot in each period holds its own; one doesn’t feel to be less important or significant and both are equally intriguing.  What is even more impressive is that it reflects what usually happens when reading historic texts or journals.  We, in the present, have only an overview, somewhat of a summarized view of the events of the past.  By including the story from Mary’s point of view, we are privy to the event as she experiences them.  It is within Mary’s story that we also find wonderful suspense and tension.  It also opens the door to learning things with otherwise might not, such as the history of fairy tales.  And for those who love stories of Highlanders, McPherson is a true, red-headed Scot with two swords, one being a basket-hilt Scottish sword, and a dirk.     

The depth of Kearsley’s research is very impressive.  Within the historic period, much is based on actual figures, places and events, all of which adds richness and veracity to the story. 
      
A Desperate Fortune” is, in essence, a story, within a story, within a story.  It begins in the present, and ends in the past, yet each story is complete, satisfying, completely wonderful and touches your heart.  This may well be Kearsley’s best book…yet.

A DESPERATE FORTUNE (Susp/Rom/Hist-Sara Thomas/Mary Dundas-England-Contemp/1732) – Ex
Kearsley, Susanna – Standalone
Sourcebooks Landmark – April 2015

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