Stately Pursuits

Wild Designs

Second Thyme Around
by Katie Fforde
(St. Martin’s, $24.95, PG) ISBN 0-312-27304-5
Someone at St. Martin’s Press goofed and wrote the jacket blurb to describe Katie Fforde’s latest book as if it were a Bridget Jones’s Diary clone. That comparison underestimates the book’s appeal. Second Thyme Around does have a British heroine and a romance, but it also features a very moving, realistic relationship between the heroine and her elderly friend who is facing the end of her life with dignity. After my disappointment with Fforde’s last book, Life Skills, I was wary, but from the first sentence, I knew she was back in top form:
“Well? are you going to come in? Or just stand in the doorway with your trug, looking picturesque?”
Perdita was almost paralyzed with shock and confusion. How could short, plump, amiable and easy-going Enzo have, almost overnight, turned into the tall, black-browed monster she had divorced ten years before?

Doesn’t that opening make you curious to read more? Organic vegetable gardener Perdita Dylan is horrified to discover that the chef for one of her regular clients has retired. His replacement is none other than her ex-husband, Lucas Gillespie. The Lucas she once knew was an ambitious stockbroker who broke her heart when he left her for an older, more sophisticated woman. How did he become a chef, and what is he doing in her neck of the woods? Although Perdita has gotten over Lucas by concentrating on building up her produce business, she plans to avoid him as much as possible - which may be more difficult than she thinks. Lucas is about to be featured in a television cooking show, and the show’s producers take an immediate liking to Perdita’s looks and the charming cottage she owns.

While Perdita mulls over ways to evade Lucas, she has other problems on her mind. Her best friend and surrogate grandmother, Kitty, is in her mid-eighties and her health is failing. Both Kitty and Perdita are determined that Kitty should stay in her own home and avoid institutionalization at all costs, but time and money may be insurmountable barriers. Surprisingly, the women find an ally in Lucas who, although still as temperamental and blustery as Perdita remembers, appears to have developed a heart sometime during the past ten years. Will Perdita keep her “veg” business rolling? Can she and Lucas ever declare a truce? Will they become television stars or will they kill each other first?

Fforde is at her best here, combining gentle humor, romance and strong characterizations. Perdita is slightly spacey but competent, extremely caring and spirited - enough to stand up to the arrogant Lucas. Fforde tends to create alpha heroes, and Lucas is indeed haughty and quick to anger, but he has an inner core of kindness that emerges as he helps Perdita and Kitty. He’s mostly bark with very little bite. The lively confrontations between the formerly married couple crackle with wit and sexual tension.

The storyline involving Kitty elevates Second Thyme Around above the average romantic comedy. Yet it never becomes depressing or overly sentimental. Fforde poignantly demonstrates the bond between Perdita and Kitty, but she presents Kitty’s decline with respect, not mawkishness. Through the experience, Perdita has the opportunity to see the good, the bad and the greedy through interactions with hospital staff, in-home nurses and long-lost grasping relatives.

Fforde’s books are like a strong cup of tea laced with brandy - comforting but bracing. Second Thyme Around is my favorite from this author since Wild Designs. If somehow you’ve missed her in your Brit Chick Lit collection, check her out. She was Brit Chick Lit before it was cool, and she remains one of its best authors.

--Susan Scribner

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