Wide is the Water (by Jane Aiken Hodge)

I like Jane Aiken Hodge's writing. She tends to write low-key thrillers with a romantic element, some of them set in exciting historical periods, others contepmorary at the time of writing, although now thirty or forty years out of date. On the whole I prefer her more modern fiction, but I thoroughly enjoyed 'Savannah Purchase', which is set in the 18th century, during the era of Napoleon.

So I was pleased to find 'Wide is the Water' a while ago in a charity shop, which - according to the blurb at the front - is about the same family (the Purchis and Purchas people in the USA and UK). Apparently there are two other books in this series too. This one is set during the American War of Independence.

It's the story of Hart (an American) and Mercy (an English woman), newly married on board a ship, and now separated for a while as Hart goes back to his ship. I don't know if their story was told in one of the previous books; there are a lot of references made to Mercy as a British spy, and the hastiness and dubious legality of their wedding, as well as the sailors calling her a 'Jonah'.

When this book opens Mercy has been left behind, and is about to go and stay with one of Hart's cousins while she waits for him to return. The story then alternates between the two of them, both having exciting adventures and temptations before they eventually meet again. Mercy finds that she must look after a naive young woman who has screaming fits, and Hart's ship is captured by the British, where he meets a relative of his.

The characters are well drawn, and the plot moves forward rapidly; however I found the book a bit over-political for my tastes. There wasn't so much intrigue and political talk that I skimmed, but sufficient to make me wish for more human interaction, and less historical detail. Still, it gave me an insight into life during this period, and once I'd got into it, I mostly enjoyed it.

None of the characters from 'Savannah Purchase' appeared, as far as I can remember; it certainly isn't necessary to have read it or any other book prior to this one.

Recommended in a low-key sort of way if you like realistic historical fiction with well-rounded characters. Not always in print, but the book can often be found second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 4th September 2008.

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