Desert Isle Keeper
The Five Minute Marriage
Joan Aiken is renowned for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase series and her Jane Austen sequel novels. The Five-Minute Marriage is not as well known, and so I came upon it completely by chance when a fellow blogger recommended it. The book proved to be a rather lucky find.
Miss Philadelphia (Delphie) Carteret and her widowed mother are in financial straits when the story starts. When Mrs. Carteret’s health takes a serious downturn, Delphie realizes that the irregular fees she makes from giving music lessons will not be sufficient for their needs, so she decides to make an application to her maternal great uncle, Lord Bollington, for some monetary help, even though the last attempt at such request had ended badly.
Well, this latest request does not go too smoothly either. This is because on reaching the estate, Delphie finds that someone else has been impersonating her as “Miss Cartaret” these past many years, and has been financially supported by Lord Bollington. Now her uncle lies dying and Delphie does not have sufficient documentation to prove her lineage or birthright. Delphie dare not tell her ailing, easily agitated mother, and she is treated most disdainfully by her cousins, Gareth Penistone and Mordred Fitzjohn, who think she is a scheming, deceitful actress. Delphie’s hopes are crushed, and she is ready to leave, when in a strange turn of events, her cousin Gareth asks her to marry him. Only this one will be a fake marriage to satisfy the dying uncle, and will only ever take “five minutes”. But as we all know, when has a marriage – fake or otherwise – lasted only five minutes?
If you are a fan of Georgette Heyer’s Cousin Kate and The Reluctant Widow, then you may also like The Five-Minute Marriage, which has similar gothic mystery elements. There is an ominous, dark undertone throughout the story, because you know that Delphie is facing the dilemma of an unjust identity theft, but with no resources to prove her truth. At one point in the book, I was genuinely afraid that Delphie, for all her quiet courage and earnestness, might not turn out to be the rightful Miss Carteret after all!
Meanwhile, murder attempts are also made on the Carterets, and though they manage to escape death, the constant peril dogging their footsteps feels very real. The suspense lasts right until the final few pages of the book, and the pace of the tale sits just right – enough to keep you wanting to read late into the night to find out what happens next.
Of course, along the way, the crusty old Lord Bollington recuperates and demands to see the fake newly-wedded couple together, Delphie debates whether she should marry the kind Mr. Browty instead even if he is her mother’s age, Gareth keeps company with a mysterious sickly-looking woman and a troop of children, Mrs. Carteret reads the poetry of a romantic locked up in debtor’s prison, and Delphi’s friend Miss Baggott marries the local locksmith. Sigh. Who knew that a five-minute marriage could involve so much trouble and so much entertainment, all in one package?