REVIEW: Beau Crusoe by Carla Kelly
Dear Mrs Kelly,
I was upset when I learned Signet wouldn’t be publishing any more of your delightful regencies. Then elated to hear the news that you’d been picked up by Harlequin Historicals. Then pissed when that line was due to close. Then happy when they reversed that decision then frustrated to learn the wait for “Beau Crusoe” would be 6 months, then a year. In other words, I’ve been waiting for this one. While it ends up not being one of my favorites, it’s still well worth the wait.
Lt James Trevenen gets his first command when HMS Orion splits open on a coral reef somewhere in the South Pacific. Out of the total ship’s complement, only 5 men make it into the long boat and only James is an officer, hence it’s his command. After two weeks with no food or fresh water, things get desperate. After three weeks James alone makes it alive to the small island he will call home for the next five years. To save his sanity, he begins to study and document the small crabs that live in the tidal pools of the island. After five years of solitude, missionaries find him. Upon his return to England, his treatise is published and he finds himself journeying to London to receive the prestigious Copley medal from the Royal Society. Yet darker things than just being shipwrecked haunt James.
Susannah Parks is also a woman who’s known solitude though hers was inflicted upon her by society. Seven years ago she shocked the ton by eloping with her father’s secretary. After traveling to India to join the East India Company, she was quickly widowed by cholera. After the birth of her son Noah, she traveled back to England to find doors closed not only to her but her family as well. Now she spends her days painting flora specimens brought back to the Royal Society and enduring her unmarried older sister’s anger and her flighty parents’ neglect. When her godfather, a Society Fellow, requests that the Alderson family host James for the two weeks before his presentation, Susannah is apprehensive of the snubs she may endure since she is Not Received yet allows that since she is a) widowed and b) has more sense than her parents, she is the only one capable of doing so.
And so two solitary souls find each other. But is two weeks enough time to uncover all their deeply buried pain much less decide if a HEA might be in their future?
I can immediately see the difference between the shorter more circumscribed books that Signet published and this longer HH book. Some authors haven’t made the transition to longer books as well as you have. I’ve seen complaints about the bawdier scenes in this novel as well as the secret horror that haunts James. Not me. I felt the scenes showing James’ return to civilization fit with the fact that he’s basically been in solitary confinement for five years in addition to being an otherwise healthy young man who’s been in the Navy since he was eight. Would many single men balk at being presented with the opportunity for no strings sex? And to his credit, James quickly figures out that he regrets what he’s done and at the first chance, he leaves temptation behind. And while the later scenes between James and Susannah can’t hold an erotic candle to some ebooks I’ve read lately, they are held until after there is an emotional bond between the two making them that much more moving for me.
I also like the scenes between Susannah and her young son and sometime champion, Noah. They are pretty much all each other has had for six years and their closeness shows. And James’s interactions with Noah show us what a good father he’ll be instead of you just telling us. I like that James is portrayed as a man of action keeping character with how Navy men would be. There’s no time for group meetings or soliciting opinions when a ship is going down. Thank goodness you have the Susannah’s elopement actually causing repercussions. So often, romance characters flout conventions then are never shown suffering any consequences from their acts. How often can these accepted rules be ignored or crossed without somebody paying the price?
The tension with Tim scenes are great. I had an idea based on what people were saying about the book as to what had happened but you kept the emotion mounting and ratcheting higher with each scene. In addition, I loved the confrontation scene in the Admiralty and feel that it’s a bit more realistic than the one in Miss Whittier. Loisa is great here. I did wonder if James could have seen the apparitions as much as he did and not have it be noticed. Well, since most of the time they showed up at night and in his dreams, maybe.
Yet even with all the things I enjoyed about the book, I had some niggles. Loisa changes too quickly for me. Yes, there are signs that, after six years, she’s not sustaining her anger at Susannah for ruining her marriage chances but to go from still hateful to a caring, loving, nurturing woman that fast strains my credulity. And there’s lots of stuff that happens and gets changed in such a short amount of time (2 weeks).
Then after surviving the shipwreck and five years of island living, would he
Why would Loisa agree to eloping to Scotland? Why not just have a small, private marriage ceremony and avoid the exact same scandal her sister had instigated years ago and then endured? Loisa and her chosen groom are going to face enough problems without adding to them.
The story is nice mixture of dark and light, horror and humor. Your style gives us added insight into the characters and their thoughts but perhaps each main character is too intuitive while some secondary ones are thick as bricks? James and Susannah often astound me with how much they can read of the other and the quick understanding they have of each other’s hidden anguish and problems. While it avoids misunderstandings, it’s like watching psychologists delve into a patient’s problems and immediately know what’s wrong.
While “Beau Crusoe” isn’t flawless, it’s still wonderful to see a new book of yours. I hope that the wait for the next one isn’t as long and look forward to what you have in store for us.