My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Beau Crusoe would be my second book by Carla Kelly. Initially, I had no intentions of doing a full review. But after finishing the book, I felt compelled to do one. I read some, mostly negative, reviews that gave me all sorts of mixed feelings about this book. I HAD to see for myself how much of it was true... well, TBH, some were true but I’m glad that my feelings aren’t as ambivalent as I feared it’d be. I loved it actually despite everything.
James Trevenen, a son from an untitled but relatively wealthy family, went to sea at 10. Never did he ever imagine that at 21, he’d be faced with an experience that’d change his life forever. James is not your regular tall, dark (or fair) and handsome Romance hero. He’s rather quite ordinary to look at, though he’s got a pair of beautiful green eyes and a mischievous personality that catches your attention instantly. He lived the life of a true sailor, until one day when his ship, the Orion, sank. He and 4 other of his mates were dumped on a boat, with him holding the ship’s log as James was the highest ranking officer among them. As per Marine rule, he needed to record day to day activities on that log no matter what..........
After a month at sea, barely alive, James finally washes ashore; a small tropical paradise that eventually became his prison. There wasn’t anyone else on that island. Once he realized he’s now indeed a castaway, James learned to live as best as he could without any other resources but what the island had to offer. After 3 years, he gave up any hope of ever being rescued. He was sure he’d live and die here, without anyone ever knowing his fate. He continued recording his daily activities as best as he could, considering his circumstances. Then one day, after 5 long, lonely and miserable years, James is finally rescued by a missionary ship that somehow noticed the smoke coming from the island.
In all these years, the only thing that kept James from going mad were Gloriosa Jubilate, a type of tiny crab species that he named himself. James researched their life cycle out of hopelessness, to keep something to occupy his mind. The result was a treaty that he was able to write after his return. James’ treaty was ardently accepted by the Royal Society of science and he’s nominated for the running year’s Copley medal. Although he could’ve asked for the medal to be send to his home at Cornwall, James decides that he’d visit London anyway. He’s also supposed to be a guest at the Alderson House, where Sir Joseph of the Royal Society has made arrangements for him to stay the duration.
We experience a bit of James’ mischievous character on his way to London. He meets a silly fop named Sir Percival. There was a fire in that inn, at his room and James saves him. It was nothing serious that required anyone’s attention, or so James told himself but still, Sir Percival deemed him as his savior. This made him the fop’s latest obsession. In return, James earns an invitation to his townhouse in London, the promise of a superb tailor and a grand entrance to the London society. Sh!t load of good it did for him though.
At Alderson House, we met our h, Susannah. Though living in her own parents’ home, she’s obviously not very welcomed there. Susannah did something 7 yrs. ago that changed her life too, and not for the better. She eloped with her father’s assistant, and then went to India with him. It ruined her family’s reputation, also her elder sister Loisa’s chance of a come out. Her husband died very shortly after their marriage. A despondent Susannah returned to England only to find herself pregnant. She now has an almost 7 yrs. old Noah, a very energetic boy. Her father is an eccentric guy, a bird watcher, while her mother is a vapid, society woman without any personality at all. And Loisa harbors a strong bitterness towards Susannah that she never forgets to show, either to her or her boy. Not a happy family.
One day, they learn that Sir Joseph, who lives nearby, is sending over a guest to stay at theirs. After receiving the news of James Trevenan’s immediate arrival, Susannah visits Sir Joseph and his wife. I loved every scene in this house, seeing how loved she and Noah was there. Susannah starts reading the treaty on Sir Joseph’s encouragement and immediately falls in love with the writing of the author, though his artistic side leaves much to be desired. As no one at her home is willing to take on the responsibility of a guest, Susannah is set as his escort. And she can’t wait to meet him in person! Incidentally, Sir Joseph is also Susannah’s godfather. He loves her like the daughter he never had and she’s most welcomed in his home, along with Noah, any time of the day. Susannah is also regularly doing botanical paintings for him, as England’s Navy brings new flora into the country from around the world. This gives Susannah a way of earning a few shillings of her own. Not that she’s destitute and without food, but the way things are at her home, she wants Noah to have a better future.
Pretty early in the story, when James was introduced, it was hinted that he was plagued by bad dreams... maybe even something more sinister. He sees someone, a vision or a ghost, whatever you call it. And it wouldn’t leave him be. James can’t sleep at night because he’s always there as if to taunt him. It was obvious that James had PTSD from his experience. But what I didn’t know was the extent of his psychological trauma until I read on...
After his arrival at Alderson House, James seeks out Susannah Park as per instruction. And for the second time in his life, James is struck again, this time by Mrs. Park’s grace and beauty. He can’t help but fall for her on spot though he knew this might not be wise. I can say the same for Susannah, though her change was more subtle. But that attraction was always shimmering between them. After a chat with Sir Joseph, James is saddled with some responsibilities which included doing something about Loisa and marrying Susannah. James and Susannah become companions in a very short time because of the kind of connection they seem to share right from the start. And they sure had a laugh over the marriage thing! After all, who falls in love in two short weeks (the duration of James’ stay), enough to get married, right?
At the course of the story, James becomes famous throughout London, something he didn’t want or even encouraged. Yet fate seemed to have a very different plan for him. We can also thank that fop, the arbitrary of fashion, Sir Percival who was responsible for naming James ‘Beau Crusoe’; the name that was now on everybody’s lips. Wherever he went he’d garner attention the moment someone recognized him, and that incident would be the talk of the town. For James, those things were nothing after what he’d suffered for 5 years, yet the ‘silly’ London society seemed to be abuzz about his ‘bravery’. That, also, brought some unwanted trouble at his doorstep in the name of Lady Audley, the married woman he’d had the bad luck of knowing on his journey back to London. With whom he had an affair with.
From the beginning, James’ thought would turn to this woman and what they’d done throughout the journey. TBH, I absolutely despised every single mention of it. It’s as if James couldn’t stop thinking about all the sex he had with her which just made me uncomfortable. James wasn’t relishing it as a conquest since he was the conquest in fact. And he wasn’t particularly proud of it. James broke it off before leaving the ship and hoped never to see her again. He didn’t know that London would bring him so much mixed emotions; a ray of hope as Susannah, those unwanted attentions and praise that he didn’t want and Lady Audley’s animosity for being cut by a complete ‘nobody’, though shagging that nobody was not a problem for her. She didn’t take it well since she’s the one drops her lovers and not the other way round, threatening James before they parted ways. It seems now she’s ready to dish out whatever is on her devious mind.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to think of James after that revelation. But it was also apparent that he’s actually a good man who is suffering badly from those nightmares. Each day, the more he gets to know Susannah, the more he fell for her. And Noah is already a fan. By now we’ve been introduced to his clever mind (he wouldn’t have survived his ordeal otherwise IMO), as he manages to solve some ongoing happenings in Susannah’s family. James is determined to see through the ‘responsibilities’ that Sir Joseph appointed him with. There was no doubt that both men had Susannah’s wellness in mind. The nasty toucans in the Alderson House that Noah was afraid of were gone already. At one point, James was also able to rescue one of the missionaries who became his friend in that ship. He was rather in a bad shape, ill with malaria. Don’t think I have to mention that Beau Crusoe’s rescue efforts was the news of the day. But Sam was so ill and James was so grateful for his help that he had to do something. It also gives him an idea that’d take care of another responsibility. Appoint Loisa as Sam’s nurse! From his conversations with her, James decided that Loisa simply was alone. That nobody ever needed her in any way. So he made sure she felt needed. When she jumps to help Sam, even Susannah is amazed since she had no idea what magic James keeps weaving to bring about those changes around her!
I’d like to talk about Loisa here because she was one of the characters that garnered my respect. At first though, I disliked her because of the way she treated Noah and Susannah. But the more I read about her, the more I understood where it was all coming from. Loisa was always marked as the ‘plain sister’; someone with bug eyes, ruddy complexion and a stout body in comparison to Susannah’s tall, curvy body and blonde beauty. I even disliked James’ comparison, his too blunt thoughts on Loisa that bordered on rude. I believe Loisa never heard a good thing about her, not to mention that her so-called plain looks never brought her any marriage prospect. When people around a person is so judgmental, reminding them over and over again that they’re less than perfect, I can’t blame that person for the bitterness welling up inside. Loisa, as we find later, is very smart with a strong personality. She is straightforward in her conduct and honest to boot. And she has a good heart. I totally saw why she was so bitter about Susannah’s elopement. She obviously wanted to be married, and the ruination saw that she never does. She was utterly lonely with nothing to do. Maybe she showed her feelings in a wrong way but she wasn’t a bad person as we, again, soon find out.
As the story progress, James’ PTSD becomes unmanageable. He begins seeing the ghost, now we know a man named Tim Rowe who was one of the unfortunate inhabitants of that boat, even in broad daylight. And he’s always holding a human body part, either eating it or offering it to James. I was shocked, stunned and horribly sad when I realized the implication of this. It becomes so apparent that Susannah begins noticing James’ pale face, awkwardness as if something was scaring him. By then, she has begun to care for this man who, in all the wrong ways, felt just right. He was all in all fun, a survivor with a brilliant mind. And he was so natural with Noah that Susannah knew he’d be an excellent father. But he won’t tell her what happened to him on the boat or afterwards. Yet, at night, when she’d hear him moaning or talking to someone, Susannah would be worried. A feeling of complete helplessness would wash over her, not knowing what to do.
At one point, she also comes to learn of Lady Audley, though James would’ve never told her, he was so ashamed. It was at a party that Sir Percival threw. That vile woman wanted to seduce James again. She probably would’ve won out but this time, James resisted. Unfortunately, the woman had already managed to do what she wanted. She knew Susannah was smitten with James... her perfume on him wouldn’t make it any easier for them. As it was, Susannah was unhappy. Knowing Lady Audley’s reputation with men, she already guessed that James had some kinda relationship with that woman, yet it hurt like the b!tch. But what did he feel for her actually? Does she have any claim on him to feel hurt? Susannah had no idea.
I should’ve hated James for it, most especially if he slept with that vile woman. But the despair I felt coming off of him after he realized that b!tch’s actual intention, it just broke my heart. Though he’d been with women in various ports, James was no player and certainly not a sophisticated socialite, so he had no idea the kind of trouble someone like Lady Audley can wrought. He was not a rake IMO, though Susannah termed him as such on various occasions. I couldn’t even imagine 5 lonely years without human touch, and then suddenly, finding it in someone, willing, even if not the best choice for a lover. I could imagine him gorging on this just for the sake of it. It was not a game, not simple lust but a mixture of everything that he’d missed. I just couldn’t bring myself to hate him or blame him for he’d suffered so much. And now, James was plain distressed that Susannah would be disgusted, and that his one ray of sunshine would be gone from him. Already I saw that, in little ways, James showed his dependency on Susannah’s caring nature. He craved it with his everything. He wanted the right to hold her, kiss her, cherish her, yet he had to settle for her calling him James instead of Mr. Trevenen. Often, he’d be distressed if she, for some reason, won’t call him James. Those little incidents spoke volume to me, just how much he needed Susannah in his life. Though he tried to hide Tim’s unwanted presence by putting up a brave face, doing mischief but it was becoming apparent that he couldn’t anymore.
That night, after the ball, though Susannah was mad, when she heard the sound of someone talking, she instantly knew it was James. She found him the other day, cowering at the corner of his room, as if in a trance. And she knew whatever plagued him was far more terrifying and deep seated than she can even imagine. When she goes to check up on him, Susannah finds James on her doorstep, intent on saving her from any harm coming from his ghoul. This is why I always liked Susannah. Though she was the quiet type in comparison to Loisa’s bold personality, she never hesitated to act. Even when James seemed to be a raving lunatic, she knew in her heart he needed help, and apparently no one but herself cared enough to do so. I loved that she didn’t hold onto the grudge. Instead, she comforts James by letting him into her bed, by holding him through the night, at one point wishing that he’d make love to her. I can’t tell you how much I loved that scene, my heart breaking for James’ suffering.
Susannah knew that to help James she has to know what happened to the boat, and to Tim Rowe. And the only way she can do it by reading the logs James surrendered to the Admiralty House as he wouldn’t confide in her. With Sir Joseph and Loisa’s help, Susannah finally reads the horror story of James’ survival; how after weeks on the sea, he and other 2 men were forced to eat parts of one of his dead comrades. That though he and the other man couldn’t continue, Tim seemed to have formed a taste for human flesh. That he later becomes a threat to his life........ But there was no account of what happened to Tim. Even sad and horrified, Susannah knew that she needed to know that part. She also understood that James needed to tell his story to set his mind free of this curse. Maybe then, he can have some peace. Susannah will make sure that James knew he’s not alone in this fight anymore.
TBH, I can go on and on about this book. There were many so scenes that touched my heart, even when I was annoyed or shocked, even when I felt nauseated while reading the brutally honest narratives of James’ horrific ordeal. I’m pretty sure I’ve never read another Romance novel where the hero was forced into cannibalism to survive and I thank the author for not glossing over it. Even through all his faults, James was one of a kind hero. He felt responsible for not doing enough to save his mates as he was the officer in charge. That guilt, the trauma of what he’d suffered both in and out of that boat, morphed into his PTSD. Then he didn’t think he was good enough to have someone like Susannah, though he craved the crumbs of her affection like the air he breathes. I’d emphasize here that though my initial feelings for him was ambivalent, much like Susannah, the more I read on, the more I became extremely protective of him. She proved to be just the one that James needed. The last couple of chapters were especially good, just as I hoped things would turn out to be. To my utter delight, even Loisa found love in Sam.
I didn’t want the story to end just then because I wanted more. I was nevertheless happy that James was finally able to hold Susannah in his arms. It provided him with an amount of peace and happiness that he never thought he’d ever find in this life. Apparently, all they needed were those two weeks. Tim’s restless spirit left him at last, and even after all he’d suffered, James hoped that the poor guy found peace too. After all, who can you blame for an ordeal like this? Providence? Bad Luck? Faulty mechanism? There’s just no real answer for a question like this.
4 stars for our Beau Crusoe. I’m determined to read more Carla Kelly book in the near future.