Master of Castle Glen
Ana Seymour is a new author for me, and I was pleased enough by Master of Castle Glen to consider looking for other titles by her.
Set in 1885 Glencolly, Scotland, the story begins with Fiona MacLennan, four months a widow, meeting the train that will bring the new laird of Castle Glen to claim his inheritance. She is angry, but determined to extend every courtesy while she quietly continues working on plans that will ensure Castle Glen is returned to her 14-year-old stepson, Robby. She is surprised to find that the American Duncan Campbell is younger and more sophisticated than she had imagined; having little information about him, she had supposed he might resemble the rough-mannered mountain men Robby sometimes read about in his adventure magazines.
But Duncan is more surprised. He had expected a widow closer in age to the recently deceased Alasdair, who was nearing seventy when he died, instead of a woman barely twenty-four. Unfortunately, he shares his astonishment with Fiona upon meeting her, and discerns very quickly the simmering hostility underlying her veneer of politeness.
Besides having to deal with the often prickly Fiona, Duncan has other adjustments to make. He must learn how to capably ride a horse since the rough roads around Glencolly make the use of a carriage a risky proposition. He also must accept the notion that the servants employed at Castle Glen are considered family who, among other things, sit down with Fee and Robby for meals. Finally, Duncan faces the challenge of making Castle Glen solvent while dealing with the bagpipe-playing ghost of Jaime MacLennan, who died young in the Battle of Culloden.
Fergus Campbell, Duncan’s ancestor, came into possession of Castle Glen when he married Jaime’s pregnant widow. Fergus’ will stipulated that with the current generation, ownership of Castle Glen would pass from the MacLennan line to the Campbell line. But Fiona recently discovered a codicil that will overturn the provisions of Fergus’ will and is only waiting for her attorney to determine where the codicil was legally registered before she gives Duncan his walking papers. Of course, as time passes and she comes to know Duncan better and an attraction develops between them, she becomes less sure that she wants him to walk away.
This is an intelligently written story, with believable and likable characters. Duncan is a self-made man, more accustomed to New York high society and lucrative business deals than the slow pace of the Scottish countryside. But coming to Scotland seems a bit like destiny, since his own father had been born there and had rued the day he had been forced to leave; inheriting Castle Glen is akin to earning the approval from his now-deceased father that he never got in real life. And, rather than being disappointed by the sad state of affairs there, he is energized as he always is by a business problem to solve.
Fiona, for her part, comes to realize that, while Alasdair loved her and took care of her, he also kept from her the truth about Castle Glen. The woolen mill is losing money to the more industrialized competition in Glasgow and cannot ultimately survive as is, and the estate itself is mortgaged to the hilt, with the loans in the hands of the neighboring Maitlands. The senior Maitland covets the castle; the junior Maitland, Graham, covets Fiona. Fiona begins to see that for all Alasdair’s dedication to tradition, Duncan is the man who can ensure Castle Glen’s future survival, even prosperity. And, of course, she gradually comes to understand that, as much as she cherished Alasdair, he never inspired the kind of passion which Duncan does.
But, while the story was an interesting one, it was prevented from being a great one by several things. First of all, the ghost element seemed unnecessary, and in my view did not really add enough to the story to be included, since the problems actually resolved before the purpose for Jaime’s ghost making his presence known was revealed. Next, the senior Maitland’s determination to secure a castle – and his callous attitude toward Fiona’s and Robbie’s stake in it – wasn’t fleshed out fully enough to make it understood. And last, but not least, although Duncan and Fiona were a couple you could root for, I never became passionately engaged with them.
It felt like a very comfortable ride, and while I appreciated the fact that there were no extremes in how the characters behaved – no spiteful overreactions that are sometimes standard fare in such story lines but generally annoy me – I never felt the compelling draw between the two leads, that oomph that says that their inevitability as a couple goes beyond simply “we lust after each other and both love this place, hey, let’s get together!” My dissatisfaction in this regard became more apparent to me when I happened to thumb through Connie Brockway’s My Dearest Enemy, which has some similarities in the underlying premise, during a break from this story. It’s been years since I had read that book, and I wanted to peruse it a little to remind myself why I had deemed it a keeper. Just from about thirty minutes of rereading a few scenes, I had my answer; Brockway’s story had a zest and a poignancy that is lacking in Master of Castle Glen. In that thirty minutes, I laughed, I sighed, I cried; none of which I did during my entire reading of Seymour’s story.
So, while I found Master of Castle Glen to be well-written and interesting, it never inspired the kind of emotional involvement that made me want to tell the world about “this great book” I had read. For readers who like a more subdued romance, not so much predictable as lacking in a lot of emotional highs and lows, Seymour’s tale should make for a comfortable weekend read.