Title: Beau Crusoe
Author: Carla Kelly
Published: 2007, Harlequin
Category: Regency Romance
Carla Kelly's new book--her first in a few years. Since I discovered Kelly last year, I've been scounging around trying to locate copies of her older titles. So I was very excited to be able to buy a new one, hot off the presses.
Five years before the start of the story, James Trevenen was a naval officer (a Lieutenant, I think) whose ship sunk in the Caribbean. He was cast away on a deserted island for years before being rescued by missionaries. While on the island (having very little to do) he began studying the habits of a particular type of crab, which he dubbed the Gloriosa Jubilate. Once back in England, he writes a naturalistic treatise on the species, for which he is awarded a scholarly award. So he travels to London for the ceremony. There he stays with Sir Joseph Banks, an eccentric old scholar who decides that James is the perfect match for his goddaughter, Susannah Park. Susannah is a widow with a young son and assorted family troubles.
James is such a fascinating character. Kelly's heroes are always sensitive and intelligent, but James is especially so. It is heartbreaking how scarred he is mentally by what he went through after the shipwreck. (And those events are very skillfully revealed piece by piece throughout the novel.) The way he became so dependent on and attached to his drawing of his beloved crabs killed me. It's like that scene in Castaway when Tom Hanks loses Wilson--Ahhh! Saddest part of the movie. When he leaves Helen Hunt, I shed not a tear, but I wanted to weep when he lost Wilson.
Anyhoo, back to James. He appears to all the world as Beau Crusoe--the mysteriously dashing man who seems capable of anything. And his survival on the island has instilled in him a resourcefulness and independence that is admirable. But his ghosts haunt him fiercely and this makes him vulnerable at the same time.
Someone (Megan, I think) once commented here that she thought Kelly was a very powerful writer. I agree with her--and this book I felt was especially powerful. As the story slowly unfolds as to exactly how horrific James's efforts at survival was, Kelly uses no particularly graphic or gratuitous language, and yet the images and events were seared in my brain. A few well-chosen words and James's hauntings began haunting me a bit. :) So much so that the book is not a comfortable read. I was affected by the story in a way that I very often am not by romance novels. But for all the darkness, there are some delightfully funny parts too.
Kelly wrote an epilogue that her editors at HQN deleted. She has offered to email it to anyone who wants it.