A Desperate Fortune
By Susanna Kearsley
Published: April 7, 2015
It has been several months since I've read this book so the details aren't as fresh in my mind as I would like. Susanna Kearsley is one of my favorite authors. I love how she blends historic details with romance and mystery. I particularly loved The Winter Sea, which is set in Scotland. A Desperate Fortune, while dealing with Scottish exiles, is set in France and Italy.
Mary Dundas is the historical protagonist, a young woman who has grown up in her aunt and uncle's home in France, longing to be reunited with her father. When her brother summons her, she thinks perhaps at last she will be going home. Unfortunately he has a different plan in mind--he needs her to pose as the sister to a Jacobite spy as part of his cover story. Mary agrees though she is disappointed to not be with her family. She still has hopes that the Jacobites will eventually take her to her father. Mary keeps a journal of her travels and experiences though it is written in code so if it is discovered, the contents will not be revealed. In the course of her journey she crosses paths with Jacobite Hugh MacPherson
In contemporary times, Sara Thomas is hired to crack the code of Mary's diary. Sara is a computer programmer who happens to have Asperger's Syndrome but with the help of her cousin Jacqui, Sara has learned to cope and interpret social cues better so she doesn't feel like she sticks out like a sore thumb. In Paris, Sara makes new friends and finds a possible new love with Luc Sabran, a Frenchman living next door.
Both Mary and Sara have some limitations placed on them--Mary by society and family expectations and Sara by labels, some of her family members and her struggles to fit in socially. Fortunately they both rise above those limitations. Mary refuses to be just her brother's pawn and has her own part to play in helping the Jacobite exiles. She also comes to terms with her family relationships. Sara proves that she can have a full life and she refuses to let labels define her. I liked how supportive Sara's cousin was of her though even she also had to step back and let Sara be her own person.
While this wasn't my favorite of her novels I really liked A Desperate Fortune and both the contemporary and historical plots. Usually Kearsley's novels involve some kind of time travel, psychic ability or genetic memory that the contemporary character experiences that allows her to discover the story of the historical character. This time no such device is used and instead things are more straightforward with Sara working to break the code to Mary's diary. I thought both story lines were good though as usual the historical story was more interesting to me than the contemporary one. The one thing that kept me from enjoying this book as much was the lack of suspense or mystery in the historical story. It kind of fizzled out by the end.
Overall I would say this is an entertaining story and one that would appeal to readers who like historical fiction and authors like Sarah Jio who tell their stories through historical and contemporary timelines.
I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss