The Unlikely Spy Catchers is the book 2 of Carla Kelly’s ongoing historical romance series, St. Brendan. My love for this series began with a short novella that you can also call a prequel to the series, which was featured in an anthology. It was titled ‘The Christmas Angle’. Even though I’d bought book 1 first, I read in a few reviews that Able and Meridee’s love story began in that novella. I was really glad to have that nugget of information because I absolutely adored that story. It was just...... So good. :) Our hero is a nerdy genius but he’s also super hot and attractive. And our heroine is just the perfect match for him.
Born in a street behind a church in Scotland, where his supposed mother died right after his birth without even giving him a name, Durable Six has come a long way. The name he’s got is the aftermath of becoming a nameless orphan left unclaimed in a workhouse of Dumfries, where his life was everything that was never nice, loving or pleasant. He’d shortened the silly name to Able later in life to give it some semblance of normalcy. After his initial resistance to death–hence he surpassed the first 5 ‘Durables’ and became number Six that lived—Able fought to survive. He fought hunger, abuse at the hand of his so-called teachers but most of all, he fought death to stay alive.
Able joined Navy to escape the appalling workhouse so I doubt he had any big ambition but as Sailing Master Able Six at 26 he’d already climbed the ladder of success when it comes to HRM Navy. At least as far as success is concerned for a total nobody like him. No one ever heard a person becoming a sailing master at the age of 22 but Able had become what no one has been before. Hell, he’s someone so unique that no one probably had seen anyone like him in the past decades, maybe more, and likely won’t see another for a long time to come. Able Six, what you can describe in the simplest terms possible, is a genius. A polymath; Someone with photographic memory. He’d basically experience anything and remember every single crisp detail. His mind is always whirring. It never stops.
Able had known he’s a bit of a genius from a very young age. But he didn’t know that he was exceptional cause there was no one to guide him until he joined the Navy. From there though, his odd talent (if you can say so) had been quickly found out by not only his mates but also the captains of the ships he’d worked on. And the rest, they say, is history. He’d climbed the ranks not just because of his brilliant memory but also because of the help of a few good captains who’d taken him under their wings.
In ‘The Christmas Angle’, we learned that Able was on half pay from the Navy as a result of the Treaty of Amiens. He was essentially been living day to day on whatever meager amount he had in his sad purse until the day a mate of his offered him a job of sort. To teach the children of the Vicar of his parish who is always busy during the holiday season. And he had a brood of them. Able takes on the job not only because he was hoping to get a bit of extra cash to liven up his life, but also because he just loves teaching, something that comes into play later in the story. What he didn’t know that the perfect woman, if there was such a species, was waiting for him in that small country parish that he’d never been to. To Able though, Meridee was pretty much everything he’d craved all his life but never thought he’d ever find.
Meridee, a self-proclaimed spinster at 24, had given up on marriage a long time ago. Not because she had no interest to but because she had no other options. Having a few too many older sisters robbed Meridee out of the dowry she deserved, and so she’d planned to live out as the ‘fun aunt’ to her rapidly growing brood of nieces and nephews. Meridee was beautiful in her own way and Able was duly smitten because of that. But she was also smart and kind, someone who showed so much genuine interest in him that Able was simply awestruck by it. No decent woman had ever given him that much attention (except if you think of the superficial since he was quite handsome himself). But whatever it was it always ended when they knew of his background.
Meridee and Able’s attraction was instant, their courtship rushed but it ended in marriage despite both never imagining that to be a future prospect.
In the prequel, we observed Able and Meridee’s adorable courtship; we were also awarded glimpses of Able’s unique way of teaching children. The way he could gain the attention of the most mischievous or the shiest and veer them to the right path, teaching them through fun and games. Meridee was already quite taken with Able’s genius mind (among other things ;) ), she also knew instinctively that he’d be a good teacher. A plan hatched to keep him land-bound as long as possible. With the help of two of his staunch champions, Capt. Hallowell and Capt. Belvedere St. Anthony, Meridee lands a job for Able at a little known school for the street-rats called St. Brendan. A school the Navy peeps don’t really talk about cause it’s all about training the above mentioned street-rats AKA workhouse boys into able seamen. There were rumors surrounding as to who funded the school—unknown men of upper echelon of the Navy, maybe even the Crown itself—yet no one acknowledged it. More about that would be revealed in book 2.
If you read the prequel, you’ll also know why Able’s Captains always poked fun at him about gaining a ‘keeper’ as soon as possible. Since his brain didn’t function the way a normal individual’s would, Able’s needed special care. It was always crammed full of too many things; every experience, good or bad, he’d had since he never forgot a thing. To say he was always under stress would be an understatement. In the past, there were incidents that had proven to be too much where he’d been knocked senseless for days because of it which worried anyone cared for him. Able had several ways of alleviating the stress; sometimes by reciting his favorite books with eyes close and trying best to relax; sometimes even chatting with his favorite authors as if they were alive and present in front of him. Another way for him was to have sex. We don’t really get a lot of details or mentions of how he handled that side of his life prior to Meridee since it’s a clean romance and he was more often than not on board a ship (I can assure you he had no interest in men). Let’s just say it didn’t really come up until... it did in book 1. Over and over again in the story. How so? I’ll get to that soon.
After reading and loving ‘A Christmas Angle’, I turned to book 1, The Unlikely Master Genius. This series is basically the continuation of Able and Meridee’s relationship and a whole lot that was going on after they married and moved to Portsmouth when Able joined St. Brendan. So I strongly suggest following series order. Book 1 picks up right from where ‘A Christmas Angle’ ended. As they settled down into their new life full of marital bliss, we gain good narratives of Able’s teaching positions (as he began by taking on multiple subjects due to the shortage of good instructors) and his utmost importance in a place like St. Brendan. Since he was also a workhouse ‘Rat’ (as the St. Brendan boys would call themselves later), no one knew what these boys went through better than Able. That he and Meridee ended up forming lasting bonds with his pupils didn’t come to me as a surprise at all. He was soon proven to be the best choice for an instructor this school has ever made. Meridee, also, found the role of House Mother where they take in boys who needed extra special care—boys who required a lot more coaxing to take part in what is called a ‘normal life’. It gave her something to do; a ‘something’ she loved since she was so, so heartbroken knowing Able’s childhood. She was also getting paid for her role and that was of tremendous help to a couple who previously had not two farthings to rub together. Able and Meridee were provided a big enough house just opposite to the school and she loved running her own household.
But a big majority of the book was also about Able and Meridee’s intense love for one another, which included various references to their sex life. Of course nothing descriptive but enough hints to give you a vague picture and leave it at that. Meridee was ultimately the ‘keeper’ of everything that was Able. There were simply too much going on in their life in such a short time and Able had to work on relieving the stress. Need I explain again how he did that? On every other page there was one mention or innuendo of something that hinted that they were going at it like the bunnies. Well, I certainly would have no problems with that cause they were, after all, newlyweds. And thankfully, Meridee who enjoyed it also knew how it helped her adorably genius husband so she was always up for, uh, helping him. But my problem was with the fact that this series is a clean read. If you’re not going to give me at least a glimpse of what’s going on in their bedroom then stop mentioning it so many freakin’ times! I adored Able (and Meridee) so I was totally invested in him, to a point I’d have loved to know in what way sex worked for him. Which position, why he preferred it. Everything. To give me crumbs then take away the rest was just........ Torture. -_- It bothered me SO MUCH that I ended up not liking book 1 all that much despite some interesting things (not pertaining to their sex life) happening at the school. There were new characters introduced, new workhouse boys, even a sister to one who later got a job at Able’s home since she had nowhere else to go.
In book 1, one of the best things that happened was the introduction of Grace Crocker, sister to the St. Brendan principal Thaddeus Crocker. She was a spinster in her 30s with an inheritance that kept her in style. I don’t remember why Thaddeus joined St. Brendan because they were quite well off TBH. Grace also had the upbringing and the grace of a well-bred lady, even if one would call her plain in looks. In any case, Grace came to teach at St. Brendan too, though she didn’t need to but it was requested by Capt. St. Anthony, whom I introduced in the beginning of my review as an on and off character. Able and he had this relationship that surpassed any social norm or status. Capt. St. Anthony was revered as a hero, who also had power and influence, as well as money while Able basically had nothing until very recently. But the affection they shared was unquestionably genuine; somewhere between the mix of father-son and older-younger brother. What I didn’t know was that he’d also known Grace from a very young age, being Thaddeus’s close friend. Capt. St. Anthony was severely injured in a battle, which left him maimed when he lost a leg. Able had mourned the loss of his spirited Captain, who was now gradually diminishing in front of his eyes. He was very worried. Belvedere was often ill and it seemed like he was beginning to lose his zeal for life. I was so so sad for him because he was suffering so bad, even while he did everything in his power so Able and St. Brendan succeeded. I wanted… no, I NEEDED to see him finding someone to take care of him. To love and cherish him. It seemed quite unfair that a man of his stature would just fade away like that! So when Grace was introduced, I had hope. A tiny shimmering hope that maybe, just maybe.
When book 2 opened up, even in the midst of everything happening, it felt to me like I was visiting old friends. I loved the usual hullabaloo of the year and new students, reacquainting myself with all the other secondary characters with their little quirks. About Able and Meridee’s very established life in St. Brendan, including the introduction of little Ben Six who made his appearance to enrich their life just a few months ago. :) It’s been around 2 yrs. since their lives had changed for the best. There are usual twists and turns, new adventures to be had that I don’t wanna detail in here. I can only say that book 1 was practically setting the base for things that were happening at St. Brendan in book 2. Able, Meridee and his students got caught into all of that. Throw in a few escapee French prisoners (and spies) from a prison ship docked pretty close to St. Brendan, this book had intrigues aplenty! I was pretty much glued to it after the first 30% or so. There was also, yes you guessed it, the repeated ode to Able and Meridee’s sex life but since I was distracted by the aforementioned ‘intrigues’, this time I wasn’t too bothered by it. Book 1 was just...... SMH. No wonder Ben Six made his appearance sooner, rather than later. :P
BUT, but... the best thing, the ‘thing’ that I’ve been waiting for to happen since book 1, begin happening when The Unlikely Spy Catchers was about 2/3rd finished. Grace, oh poor Grace! So in love with Belvedere but she had no idea what to do. How to approach a man so hell-bent on giving up on life? Sigh. Yet, disappointingly, there wasn’t enough of my other favorite couple in this book. Not enough I tell you! Their romance totally rushed to the ending and I didn’t like it. :( I needed more pages, needed to savor it while I watched it develop. I felt Belvedere always had a tendre for Grace but because of the way his life panned out, he had restrained himself. I mean, that needed more exploration...of every kind! -_-
I don’t know if there’d be a book 3 as there were no tangible hints in this book. But to me, it seemed that some businesses were left unfinished so I’m keeping my hopes high that it’s not the end. I really need more of Grace and Sir B. (as people close to Belvedere called him). All in all, 4.25 stars and definitely recommended for the fans of the series.