New York: Fawcett, c1976
Elizabeth Peters is the master of romantic adventures, told with a leavening of humour. Because of its historical, dramatic nature, I'd think this novel might have been released under her other authorial name, reserved for all her gothics, Barbara Michaels. But perhaps the humorous touch might have been too much for a Michaels!
It involves all the wonderful things that Peters/Michaels often rolls into her books -- archeology, young women as protagonists, masterful men undercut by sly humour, and clever repartee.
The style and content of this novel remind me of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda crossed with John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps -- fleeing across the moors, secret conspiracies, strange resemblances, and a touch of romance too. It was very entertaining and a delightfully Scottish read.
The plot begins when Susan, a young American archaeology student, arrives in Scotland for a summer gig. She's volunteering at a dig, but has come a little early to soak in Edinburgh -- she is fascinated with Scotland. That's when it all goes wrong; she gets mistaken for someone else and pulled into the middle of a political conspiracy...or is it? Rescued by Jamie Erskine on the streets of Edinburgh, she's then accompanied by him to her work site, where they finally meet up with her first colleague:
Susan stumbled across the threshold and felt a hand catch here. A face peered out of the shadows -- a tanned young face topped by bright-red hair.
"Ewen MacGregor" said the face.
I was amused.
The story continues with Susan trying to figure out what is actually going on at this dig; not much work seems to getting done. And who is who, and why and how, and what her relationship really is to Jamie, not to mention uncovering his deep dark secrets.
It's a convoluted plot which all makes sense in the end -- Peters is great at throwing more and more into the story (including a subterranean torture chamber here) and yet tying it all up believably. Despite it being very much of its time -- sexism abounds, and the romance turns out to be fairly abrupt and traditional -- the cleverness rescues this one.
When I want to relax with a fun read I very often to turn to Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels. This book, which I came across in this delightful vintage edition in a used book store, mixed both the Amelia Peabodyish humour of Peters and the gothic elements of Michaels, resulting in a refreshing concoction to enjoy again and again. Scottish history buffs will particularly enjoy this read, but it isn't limited to that market. If you want a fun, madcap story of mistaken identities and romance fated in the stars, try this out.