The hyperbole on the back of this book says that it’s “in the grand tradition of Charlotte Bronte and Daphne Du Maurier." Well, I certainly wouldn’t put Rose Melikan in the same category as those writers, but The Counterfeit Guest is nonetheless an entertaining read.
The Counterfeit Guest is the sequel to The Blackstone Key. It’s 1796, and Mary Finch, formerly a penniless governess, now finds herself in possession of a large fortune and a house called White Ladies, recently bequeathed to her. One could easily paraphrase Jane Austen here: “A single woman in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a husband,” as Mary’s friend Susannah marries the mysterious Colonel Crosby-Nash and Mary herself is pressured to marry. At the same time, Mary finds her “friendship” with Captain Robert Holland strangely cut off….
Having read The Blackstone Key, it’s easy for me to make comparisons with that novel. Both books are written in a lively, upbeat tone, and both are easy, quick reads, with interesting characters. What Melikan does in this book, however, is improve on her writing; the villain is less of a caricature, and the characters have more depth to them.
I especially enjoyed the romantic tension between Mary and Captain Holland; it’s always there, boiling at the surface, but not so much that it gets ridiculous. The author is a professor of legal history at Cambridge, and she shows that to her (and the book’s) advantage here. In addition, it’s clear to me that the author has done more research on the late 18th century since the writing of The Blackstone Key. Often, it’s easy for authors of historical fiction to get lazy in their research when writing a second book about a period, so kudos goes to Melikan for keeping that up.
There are a couple of continuity errors in this book (for example, the author introduces Holland’s commanding officer twice within two pages), and Mary often jumps to wild conclusions, often without any evidence to back them up. Other than that, I enjoyed this lighthearted book that never takes itself too seriously. Melikan's third book, The Mistaken Wife, will be coming out sometime next year.