The Scottish Bride
Like many other authors, Catherine Coulter used to be on my must read list, and now falls somewhere just below that list. Sometimes I’ve slowed down on authors because my reading tastes changed and other times it was because the books became too much like their predecessors. I think Catherine Coulter falls somewhere in both of these categories.
In her latest, she returns to the Sherbrooke family and centers the story on Tysen. You may remember him as the pious younger brother who became a vicar. He was engaged and later married to an even more pious woman. Most of Tysen’s brief appearances in the other books featured him being disapproving about his brothers and sister. Now he is widowed, has two children and has just inherited a Scottish barony. He is the new Baron Barthwick of Kildrummy Castle and must travel to the holding to put things in order. There he meets Mary Rose Fordyce, a beautiful woman with a scandalous background.
Right from the start the author had a difficult job to do. She had to make a character who was unlikable and unsympathetic in the other books into someone we would like and root for. Tysen wasn’t a bad boy rake who readers loved to hate; he was a prudish, humorless man. In this respect, Ms. Coulter succeeded. Tysen does grow on you and it was actually very nice to have a hero who didn’t have dozens of lovers in his past (more on that later ). In the first two-thirds of the book the reader gets a chance to know Tysen without being hit over the head with the presence of other members of the Sherbrooke clan. We see him interacting with his daughter, two sons, and Mary Rose, and he has only minimal contact with his brothers and sister. This works in Tysen’s favor as a character. It allows him to develop beyond the stereotype he was in the other books, and allows us to delve a little into who he really is.
Mary Rose is likable but more familiar as a heroine. She reminded me of Brandy in The Generous Earl (later republished under the title The Duke). Like Brandy, she is at the mercy of relatives who use and abuse her. When she meets Tysen, an English aristocrat who has come to take over a Scottish holding, she immediately falls for him. All of this is fine, if only it wasn’t so reminiscent of the earlier book. If you’ve never read The Generous Earl, you’ll have fewer moments of deja vu and enjoy the growing relationship between Tysen and Mary Rose.
In the range of books that Catherine Coulter has written The Scottish Bride would fall squarely in the middle. Some of the elements that have annoyed readers of her recent books are here, but they don’t overwhelm the plot and characters. Certainly some of the dialog is stilted, but a lot of it is funny. When a would be abductor is chased and tackled by a naked man and his almost naked wife, I laughed out loud. The discussion between Tysen’s sister and her husband about educating Tysen on how to please a woman was also amusing. Which leads to another strength in this novel. Because Tysen doesn’t have the experience his brothers do, his only knowledge of sex comes from his relationship with his former wife, and it wasn’t good. When he makes love to Mary Rose for the first time he’s very worried about how she’ll respond. Later, when he has other concerns about their relationship and how it’s affecting his job as a vicar, they arise out of his sober background. There are good moments in this one. Just not enough of them.
There aren’t enough interesting characters either. It’s nice to see the reappearance of the other Sherbrookes, but the rest of the cast is stereotypical and there is no logic in the way these people act. Tysen’s ten-year-old daughter, Meggie, is extremely irritating for a good part of the book. The people tormenting Mary Rose are doing so for reasons that range from banal to illogical. Her mother’s personality undergoes several out of the blue changes. She’s crazy, she’s not crazy, she’s fond of her daughter, she’s not, she’s a sex fiend, she’s not, none of these seemed to be connected except for by the needs of the story. By the end of the book she has changed completely, and I was going huh? Other characters undergo similar personality transplants or else they disappear off the canvas altogether.
It’s hard to review Ms. Coulter without sounding like you’re damning with faint praise. Her earlier books had a lot of energy and wit so she has made herself a tough act to follow. This is a better book then the latest contemporary suspense novel she wrote, but it still falls short of her best works.