A Catch of Consequence
A casual reader might pick up A Catch of Consequence, read the back, and assume it was a romance. This would be an inaccurate assumption; although it has some romantic subplots, this book is very much women’s fiction. It’s the type of story that chronicles the life of a strong woman, centering mostly on her, and the people who come into her life. This is historical fiction; there isn’t an HEA in the traditional romance sense, and as readers of literary novels are aware, it’s not a great idea to get too attached to any character other than the heroine.
Makepeace Burke is the proud owner of the Roaring Meg, a Boston tavern right on the sea. It’s a gathering place for the Sons of Liberty, and it produces the cash that sends Makepeace’s brother Aaron to Harvard. One day, a simple act changes everything. Makepeace is out fishing for lobsters in the early morning, when she spies a struggling man slip into the water. She rows over and rescues him, and her life heads in a whole new direction. The man is Sir Phillip Dapifer. Makepeace has no love for the English aristocracy; as a business owner, the Stamp Act has hit her hard, and her sympathy is with the Sons of Liberty. Still, she can’t imagine simply leaving Dapifer to die. Initially, she hides him from her customers and friends, but eventually the truth is discovered. She intends to send Dapifer away with some British soldiers, but it soon becomes clear that her life and her livelihood are in danger as well. Makepeace ends up fleeing to England with Dapifer, with her injured brother and three loyal servants in tow.
Makepeace intends to take some money Dapifer has given her and open her own tavern in England. But romance blossoms during the journey, and Makepeace and Dapifer are married by the ship’s captain. Makepeace arrives in England as Lady Dapifer – a woman very much in love with her husband, and very unsure of how to go about her new role. The London servants ridicule her, and her entrée into society is rather rocky. On top of these problems, she must deal with Dapifer’s vicious ex-wife, whom he divorced in Boston. The first Lady Dapifer is contesting the legality of the divorce and charging Dapifer with bigamy. She loses no opportunity to expose Makepeace to public ridicule.
Circumstances eventually force Makepeace to once again support herself and her loved ones, and she heads north to Newcastle where she intends to make her fortune in coal. Now she must decide whether her motives are worthy, and who is most important in her life.
Overall, I found this book fairly interesting, but not compelling. I had no trouble putting it down; in fact, I put it down so often that it took me two weeks to read it. That wasn’t because it was boring, because it wasn’t. There’s a fair amount of action, and there isn’t one scene I would call extraneous. But I figured out the general direction of the story early on, when my search for an author bio accidentally led to discussion questions instead (by the way, I can’t stand discussion questions in fiction; they just smack of pretension to me). Since I knew the story was headed in a somewhat unhappy direction, there was no sense of urgency to finish the book.
That said, it’s a nicely detailed story that really paints a picture of eighteenth-century Britain. I particularly liked all the details about Northumberland and the coal industry, even if I failed to completely understand the dialect. The author clearly spent a lot of time researching, and mostly I’d agree with the back copy, which heralds the book as “rich in period detail.” The only aspect that seemed off to me was Norman’s vision of eighteenth-century Boston, which struck me as off by about a hundred years. The all-encompassing, everybody-in-everyone’s-else’s-business Puritanism she shows is much more characteristic of the 1600s than the late 1700s.
Makepeace and her friends are mostly likable, and Dapifer even more so. There’s a substantial cast of secondary characters, but they manage to come across as interesting individuals. Even the very nasty former Lady Dapifer manages to be believable in her evilness. Of course everyone gets second billing to Makepeace, and fortunately she’s a sympathetic character. Against the backdrop of history, she struggles with her identity, nationality, and personal loyalties in a way that makes seems human and understandable. I couldn’t help but appreciate her strength and independence.
I am always inclined to like books set in the Colonial or Revolutionary War period, and although this wasn’t exactly what I expected, I think other fans of this era would find A Catch of Consequence interesting reading. However, one definitely needs to go in with the understanding that this is not the story of a couple, but the story of a woman.