Desert Isle Keeper
A Convenient Fiction
A Convenient Fiction beautifully mixes Georgette.Heyer with Victoria Holt. Part gothic romance, part family story with a tiny sprinkling of humor thrown in, it’s a lovely, spooky heartbreaker of a novel that sinks its claws right into you, then kisses the wound it leaves behind.
Laura Hayes is taking a dip in a leaf-strewn pond when an arrogant and, by turns, awkwardly flustered man arrives to pull her out, presuming that she was drowning (to be fair to him, she was floating beneath the water to strengthen her lungs – as he puts it “like a demented Ophelia.”).
Alex Archer only ended up on the property of Squire Talbot because his rented horse bolted and he had gone to find it. As Laura stands there in her underwear, dripping wet, and he stands beside her – embarrassed, his bravado deflated and his attraction evident – they both believe that this will be just a moment that they can brush away after getting on with their lives. He’s here to visit George, a distant friend whom he’s conned into hosting him while he searches for a rich wife. Alex, one of four orphans who grew up together in horrifying conditions in a parish in Devon, has been running from his past ever since. Marrying a heiress will do nicely.
Laura – who is, according to George “someone of no import” – is the daughter of a perfumer whose family is in severe financial straits following his death. She is taking care of her invalid brother and elderly aunt and must also deal with the family’s debt to a Mr. Weatherwax, who has threatened to have her brother declared incompetent and will take control of the family estate and sundry if they cannot pay him.
But Laura and her elderly aunt are nonetheless invited to visit George and things are Awkward because this is how Laura meets Alex again after her pond-dunking. Alex is sardonic; Laura gives him no quarter. Alex continues to pop up at unexpected intervals, just when Laura least expects to see him – and when she needs him the most. But since he’s planned to hunt a rich heiress and Laura is poor as a church mouse, can they ever be happy?
A Convenient Fiction is a great romance about imperfect people. It has some problems but manages to stick its landing in a way that’s perfect.
Alex is, understandably, angry – angry because he was abandoned at an orphanage, and angry about the physical and emotional abuse, as well as the depravation, he suffered there. Thus, he’s become one of those cynical fellows who refuses to love and it takes him a while to shift away from his cold materialism, which might be too long for some readers. Without that aspect of his character, the book would’ve gotten a full on A.
Laura, meanwhile, keeps a stiff upper lip as she tries to keep her family together, without seeming childishly naive or dependent on Alex, or falling into too many TSTL pitfalls. She loves her family, and they will fight tooth and nail for her – and vice versa.
Laura and Alex’s romance is well done and crackles with sexual tension (for a romance with no sex at all, you can somehow feel the steam rising off of them both!). It’s filled with sympathy and mutual caring, a great reflection of the importance of being there for someone, for listening to them.
The author has clearly done her research when it comes to the time period, and everything feels properly of its time; from emerging controversies over women’s bathing fashion to ball etiquette to the horrors of life in charity orphanages, everything is perfectly done. And It’s refreshing to have a romance among the merchant class here, as opposed to one involving the aristocracy.
Overall, A Convenient Fiction works perfectly on every single romantic level.