Like many romance readers, I am a sucker for a good marriage of convenience story and I am pleased to report that The Irish Rogue is just that. Set in early 19th century Philadelphia and Maryland, it is the tale of a woman who needs a husband in a hurry and the man who comes to her rescue.
Anne Davis, the daughter and heiress of a rich Maryland tobacco planter, fell under the spell of a practiced fortune hunter while visiting her sister in Philadelphia. But her suitor found a wealthier bride and callously abandons her, even though she is expecting a child. As Annie and her sister Mary are returning from this disappointing rendezvous, they get lost and find themselves near the docks. Assaulted by three toughs, Annie is rescued by a charming Irishman, Michael O’Ryan. Distraught from her brush with death, Annie blurts out her problem.
Michael O’Ryan has fled to America to escape hanging for his actions opposing the English authorities. Like most Irish immigrants in the 1820s, he faces discrimination and hard times, despite his gentlemanly upbringing. He realizes that marriage to Anne might well be the solution to his financial problems as well as allowing him to help his
friends to a better life. He proposes and Anne accepts.
Michael is far from the rogue of the title. Rather, he is a generous, kind, and thoughtful hero. He’s also handsome as can be and Anne finds herself drawn to him to a much greater degree than her erstwhile suitor. After all, they are man and wife. So it is not surprising that Anne seeks Michael out for comfort and affection. Michael, attracted to his wife, finds her passion immensely appealing. But he is likewise convinced that a man who is wanted by the authorities in two countries is no fit husband for a woman like his Annie.
Indeed, the plan is for this marriage to be quite temporary. Michael will give his name to the unborn child and after a year or so, will disappear from Anne’s life, with a very nice stake for the future. But circumstances intervene. First, Anne loses the baby; then, her father dies and it is discovered that the plantation is mortgaged to the hilt. Anne is likely to lose everything she owns. Michael feels he cannot abandon his temporary wife.
Michael finds life on the Davis plantation both attractive and disturbing. He is particularly upset by the existence of slavery. A man who has risked his life opposing English exploitation of Ireland is unlikely to find the practice of slaveholding acceptable. Thus, French cleverly deals with one of the dilemmas that faces any author who sets
her story in the antebellum south. The author brings home the evils of the slave system by describing the travails of a slave couple whose fate is bound up with the fate of the plantation. If the creditors foreclose, there is every likelihood that they will be separated. By seeing slavery through Michael’s eyes and through Ivy’s and Abraham’s experiences, Anne comes to understand its true nature.
There is a secondary plot which deals with a threat to the Davis plantation from an unknown enemy. This leads to all sorts of danger and derring-do, which adds excitement to the story. But essentially The Irish Rogue is the tale of the developing love between Michael and Anne. As such, it succeeds admirably. Judith French has penned a winner.