McAlistair’s Fortune is such a mild story that I was surprised to find an unpleasant surprise when I was six pages from finishing the entire book. Unfortunately, it was at this point that a side of the hero was revealed that was so shockingly repugnant to me that it sent the grade of the book – which had been sliding already – straight into D level.
One day Evie Cole overhears her family discussing her future; anxious to see her married, they devise adventurous schemes to bring her into contact with gentlemen. They consider forging fake threats and making Evie “evacuate” as a way of getting her out of the house and into the arms of her intended husband. She decides to play along, and is thus unsurprised to find that she has received a “threatening letter.” The family agrees to send her to a cottage away from their house, accompanied by James McAlistair, a reclusive ex-soldier who has been living on their property.
Evie is surprised by her family’s acting skills; if she didn’t know better, she’d think she really was in danger. As it is, she plans to enjoy the adventure with her attractive companion. What Evie’s family doesn’t know is that she and the “Hermit of Haldon” shared a kiss months ago, and she’s held a tendre for him ever since. As the two go through the country, McAlistair insists that the danger is real, even though she tells him about her family’s plans. She dismisses his warnings of danger, only to eventually realize that everyone is right, and she may be in more trouble than she bargained for.
Evie has a back story of being in a secret society that helps battered women escape their husbands, but this is never elaborated on. Her character is otherwise common, and is pretty annoying when she’s asserting her rights and demanding equality.
McAlistair is what makes the story so unpalatable for me. At one point in his loveless childhood, he lives with a couple that abuses him. The husband routinely locks him up in a tight, dark closet as punishment. McAlistair finally escapes, but he never forgets the abuse. He eventually becomes a hired assassin during the war, and on an ordinary mission, he enters his target’s house only to find that his former guardian is employed at the residence as a tutor. Deciding to forsake his mission, he creeps up behind his ex-guardian and slits his throat.
I believe McAlistair is hugely unjustified in killing his guardian. He could have tied up the old guy and smacked him around. He should have locked him in a closet and left him to suffer. But it was completely unnecessary for him to sneak up on the unsuspecting man and kill him. This indicates a coldness in his heart that I absolutely did not like. And not only is his vigilantism disturbing, but he is also unprofessional in letting his target (a more dangerous man) walk free in order to satisfy his vendetta. This implies his previous remarks – how much he believed in his work, how his job as an assassin was essential to the war effort – are more or less untrue.
What’s worse is that when he reveals this to Evie, she automatically goes into “my-love-will-save-the-day” mode. Uh, hello! Your boyfriend just admitted he surreptitiously murdered his guardian in cold blood, and you immediately say that it’s fine with you? In the span of a page, she’s dismissing his Sweeney Todd tendencies and turning his attention to focus on her again, saying that her love is true, her love is strong enough for everything, her her her. I suddenly realized that Evie was very self-centered.
I believe I am not alone in requiring my heroes to be fundamentally good. Sure, McAlistair has some semblance of honor when it comes to Evie, but she better make sure she feeds him on time and does his laundry just the way he wants, because she’ll never know if he’ll murder her for putting too much starch in his cravats. If McAlistair were asked “Are you a man or a mouse?” he would definitely fall in the mouse category. A big ugly one.
If you can’t tell already, I don’t recommend McAlistair’s Fortune. I don’t even understand the title. I suppose the “fortune” refers to his luck in finding a woman so anxious to be accepting that she forgives everything. I was ready to give this book a C for effort; the writing style is generally pleasant and no hardship to read. I thought the heroine was a little self-involved and pompous, and the hero reeking of martyr, but they weren’t the worst characters I’ve ever come across. Honestly, it’s mind-boggling how six short pages had the power to leave me utterly disgusted with two people.