Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-075745-0
Historical Romance, 2006
Karen Ranney takes on the The Return of Martin Guerre theme – or Sommersby, which some people may be more familiar with – in Autumn in Scotland, in which an abandoned wife discovers that her husband has returned to her, a new and improved fellow who in the end turns out to be someone else that looks like her missing husband. I’m not spoiling this story, by the way, since the author and the back cover synopsis make it clear from the moment he shows up in the story that Dixon McKinnon is not the same man as George McKinnon, his brother and Charlotte Haversham’s husband.
George married Charlotte (he’s penniless, her father is in trade and is very wealthy – the usual story) five years ago and then promptly disappeared one day a week after the nuptials. Charlotte and her parents traveled all the way to George’s ancestral home Balfurin in Scotland only to realize that George had, from all appearances, fallen off the face of the earth and didn’t want to be found. A dutiful daughter and wife who had obeyed the rules all her life, Charlotte however loves the broken-down Balfurin at first sight and some dormant defiance awakes inside her: she decides to remain in Balfurin, which by right is her home since she is, after all, George’s wife, and lives her life the way she wants to, away from husbands and fathers and mothers that only care to see her dance to their strings.
In the five years since, Charlotte has used most of her inheritance to rebuild Balfurin. She turns her home into an increasingly successful school for young ladies, the Caledonia School for the Advancement of Females. She fails in her attempts to divorce George since he is nowhere to be found, but she’s happy. Today, the first class of her school is graduating and her school looks to being even more successful come the next term. But then “George” shows up and ruins her good mood. Worse, he’s here to stay! What will Charlotte do now?
Dixon allows Charlotte to mistake her for her husband – the author reasons that the two men are often mistaken for each other and Charlotte, understandably, has only seen her husband for only slightly longer than a week before he vanished – and so the games begin.
Charlotte is a heroine after my heart, really, because she’s brave enough to do something good for herself out of a humiliating debacle of a marriage. However, Ms Ranney does Charlotte no favors by having Dixon not telling her that he’s not who she thinks he is. This is because Charlotte as a result spends most of the time in this story going “I hate him! I hate him!” until she falls into bed with Dixon and then Charlotte starts going (unconvincingly, in my opinion) that she loves him after all. I’d like to see more of Charlotte’s drive and determination or more of how she is living out her newfound independence, instead of having to see her jumping up and down like a silly girl unable to decide whether she loves or hates that cute boy living next door. Charlotte comes off like a character who could have been more complex and interesting but that potential is never fully reached in this story.
I find that Dixon is like a jigsaw puzzle missing a few pieces because at the end of the story, I still find various aspects of his baggage and personality underdeveloped. This isn’t good because Autumn in Summer is a story that requires Dixon not to reveal who he really is to Charlotte and he needs a good reason not to. Unfortunately, I don’t think the author ever comes up with a good reason for Dixon. Dixon at first is a rather infuriating hero because he keeps “teasing” (as he puts it) Charlotte by asking her to sleep with him or telling her that he can take the school away from her if he wants to. We have a woman who has been abandoned by her husband for five years – a husband who vanished with her dowry, mind you – and who had toughed it out in the years since to build a life for her own. Dixon knows that George isn’t an honorable man. So why be so cruel and “tease” Charlotte like this? After Charlotte gives out to Dixon, he then realizes that he should tell her who he really is, but whenever he has the opportunity to do so, he ends up deciding that he should sleep with her one more time and then leave her. Forever! How generous of him, I tell you. I’m sure Charlotte will appreciate that one fine sexing he will give her to remember him for during the rest of her life while he goes on his merry way. What a pig.
Ultimately, the whole “Why can’t he tell her?” issue ends up coming off like a very obvious example straight out of a handbook of contrived storytelling techniques. This story is frustrating because ultimately, the “twists” are very predictable as well as contrived. Autumn in Scotland is structured like nearly every other Big Deception stories out there, with anyone who has read more than one of this type of stories can predict correctly everything right down to the moment and circumstance when Charlotte will discover the truth and what the characters will do subsequently.
This one is well-written and far from a bad book. It’s just that this book is too… I don’t know, flawed in a very predictable and ordinary manner, if I am making sense here, to stand out in my mind.