The Blackstone Key by Rose Melikan
1795, and a young woman travels in haste from Cambridge to the Suffolk coast. Her name is Mary Finch, and she has been invited to meet her wealthy uncle – and so end a family estrangement that has held fast for more than twenty years. Smart, courageous and blessed with good looks if not good fortune, Mary is excited by the prospect of adventure, and the chance to escape a miserable future teaching at Mrs Bunbury’s school for young ladies. But a whispered warning from a man dying on the road who carries a strangely familiar watch bearing her uncle’s initials, exposes her to a ruthless conspiracy that threatens not only her family’s reputation, but her very life. With England embroiled in a bloody war with Republican France, and spies and smugglers active all along the coast, Mary must learn quickly how to fight for her survival, and to distinguish friend from foe. Can she trust the two men who want to help her? What is their interest in the mysterious Blackstone key? Does it guard a secret treasure, or might it have a more sinister purpose?
If you like historical fiction this is a book you must read. The book description presents a story that could so easily be bland and ordinary, just another story set in an historical context. Don’t be fooled. It isn’t. Rose Melikan has written a first class adventure story, set in the 1795 when England was at war with France and with a young girl as the central character. What brings this story to life is the author’s meticulous research into the period, its context and the growing pains of a young woman suddenly challenged in ways that are unheard of in her own previously sheltered life. The descriptions of the life and times are vivid and capture the imagination, bringing the story to life. Melikan must have researched thoroughly to be able to come up with such detailed descriptions of coach timetables and routes, architecture, the dress shop, the countryside and its public houses and the legal framework with which much of the story is held together. Add to that a spicy gunpowder plot, a touch of romance, some unexpected twists and turns and it all becomes a gripping novel.
The characters are interesting in their own rights, as each is not what they seem. Mary Finch changes before our eyes. She was always intelligent and soft-hearted, but whereas at the beginning of the story she is immature and somewhat naïve, by the end of the story, which is two weeks later, her life experiences have shaped the beginnings of a very well rounded sensible young woman. The writing of her character is initially almost childish, but although she retains some of the innocence of childhood, she progresses beyond her youthful thoughts and actions as she becomes interested in the two men who enter her life and begins to realize that life is more complex than she had first thought. The other characters are deliberately misleading, but as the story unfolds, their personalities unfold and we become confused as Mary is until all is revealed at the end.
I loved this book and its length, over 400 pages, did not put me off, even though I am a slow reader. The historical context was interesting, the story good and the descriptions very good. So, I say again…this is not a book to be missed. Go get it! (And no…I don’t work for the publishers or author!)