REVIEW: The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker
Recently widowed, Rebecca Parcell is too busy struggling to maintain her farm in Morristown to give a fig who wins the War for Independence. But rumors are spreading in the winter of 1780 that she’s a Loyalist sympathizer who betrayed her husband to the British—quite a tidy way to end her disastrous marriage, the village gossips whisper.
Everyone knows that her husband was a Patriot, a hero who died aboard a British prison ship moored in New York Harbor. But “everyone” is wrong. Parcell was a British spy, and General Washington—who spent that winter in Morristown—can prove it. He swears he’ll safeguard Becca’s farm if she unravels her husband’s secrets. With a mob ready to exile her or worse, it’s an offer she can’t refuse.
Escaped British prisoner of war Daniel Alloway was the last person to see Becca’s husband alive, and Washington throws this unlikely couple together on an espionage mission to British-occupied New York City. Moving from glittering balls to an underworld of brothels and prisons, Becca and Daniel uncover a plot that threatens the new country’s future. But will they move quickly enough to warn General Washington? And can Becca, who’s lost almost everyone she loves, fight her growing attraction to Daniel, a man who always moves on?
Dear Ms. Becker,
There aren’t too many books featuring the American Revolution on offer these days. Used to be scads of them but alas, not any more. When I saw this cover and read the blurb, I got excited – a historical with a mystery and some romance in which a strong sounding heroine appears to save the day? Yes, I’m interested in that. I ended up liking it yet almost as soon as I was finished, I began to think back and notice little things that didn’t quite add up or at times make sense. I liked the book but …
It starts strongly with heroine Rebecca Parcell facing down a tough crowd at church when what had up to then only been rumors are tossed at her publicly. That the minister is one of the townspeople slyly insinuating that she was responsible for her husband being taken prisoner by the British who then sent him to the Jersey a prison hulk outside of New York City where Philip died. The people among whom she’s lived for three years never thought she was good enough for him though her redoutable mother-in-law supports her completely.
Shortly after that Daniel Alloway appears on the scene, finally drawn to the home of the man who imparted some last words before he died and Daniel escaped. Impressed by how Rebecca faces down the townspeople who basically show up at her farm with pitchforks and torches, Daniel helps turn the mob away and catches the attention of some of Washington’s officers. Daniel is a man without a home and – due to his injured hand – a job. Rebecca is a woman facing ruin and loss of her farm due to her neighbor’s suspicions. Washington and Hamilton offer them hope of salvation in return for ferreting out who is not only sending information to the British in New York but apparently planning something worse for the Americans which might end the war.
The plot is mainly focused on the spying that Becca and Daniel are asked to investigate with the romance being only a distant second. While that doesn’t end up being insta-love and there’s no sex at all, I never really felt that I was watching two people develop a romantic relationship. Becca daydreams a bit about Daniel and he’s impressed with her spirit and gumption but when Becca realizes she’s in love with him all I could think was “Huh. When did that happen?” Meanwhile Daniel never appears to reciprocate. He proposes marriage as a way for him to repay the debt he feels he owes Becca for saving his life but she (rightly, IMO) rejects this lukewarm offer.
The spying parts were done better but there were still things that just never went together. I felt it was like a jigsaw puzzle with some pieces jammed into place where they didn’t fit and other pieces missing completely. Becca’s (aristocratic, English born) husband was a snob who borrowed money and rarely paid it back so why the townspeople saw him as a Patriot who died for the cause bewildered me. Becca had an unusual upbringing before her father struck it rich but countless other Colonists also improved their social standing over the course of their lives so why were the townspeople so snobbish towards Becca and ready to turn on her?
New York City under British rule is a fascinating backdrop to use. The conflicting loyalties, cross purposes, and tensions should have made the book more interesting but I’m afraid that for the most part these seemed little more than window dressings. Nice window dressings, well researched window dressings but nothing that added a lot to the story.
Becca and Daniel put a great deal of effort into discovering who is playing the American side false but, to be kind, they’re not exactly brilliant spies or sleuths. It’s more dogged determination and in some cases dumb luck that helps them along. And even then, it takes them a long time to put the clues – which are mercifully sprinkled through the book so there are few “what?” moments. Still the place where what they’re searching for is found would have been one of the first places I would have looked given what Becca says about it plus the ultimate villain was one of the few “what?” moments.
I did like that the actual historical personages are made to be three dimensional and given some “warts” rather than portrayed as hallowed saints. It was a shame that all the British are pretty much foul characters, two dimensional or both. The depiction of the tensions between Loyalists and Patriots was nicely done as well as how desperate things were and how much the Patriot cause was balanced on a knife edge. As the story ends, it appears that Becca and Daniel might have further undercover adventures and perhaps the romance will be developed more. I enjoyed parts of this book but it isn’t what I’d hoped it would be. C