Highlander Unmasked

Highland Scoundrel
by Monica McCarty
(Ballantine, $6.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-0345-50340-4
Character driven stories are often engaging because the two characters have obstacles to overcome and their pairing assists each of them in finding the answers.  In addition, there is usually a compelling reason for the two to be at odds and a great tale is enhanced by the cast built around them. All of these are missing in Highland Scoundrel and as a reader, I found myself skimming pages and wishing the story would end. The story opened in the present and then looked at the past before reverting back to the present.

Duncan Campbell is a bastard, yet was raised by his father as one of his own. Being the eldest, Duncan hoped to be named heir, but realized that this might be impossible. His family was a family of warriors and he a natural leader, yet his father must look at what was best for the clan.  Ten years ago, they were engaged in a fight for their country, siding with Argyll against the threat from Huntley, the Gordons and the would-be King seeking to overtake the Highlands.  Duncan was also a man in love.

Jeannie Grant was a lovely girl who happened to catch his eye.  She is the daughter of the Laird of Clan Grant and has grown up knowing she must do her duty to her clan and her father.  Yet she loved Duncan and after just a short acquaintance, it was clear they were bound to one another with the love they share. But fate intervened. Through a convoluted plot, Duncan was accused of treason and exiled. He left with a price on his head and feelings of betrayal behind.  In actuality, Jeannie’s father was involved to betray his allegiance to the Campbell’s, acting as if he was one of their allies and then pulling back in the heat of battle. In addition, he sold information to Huntley. When all was said and done, it looked like Duncan had betrayed his clan and to Duncan, it looked like Jeannie had betrayed him.

Duncan has now returned ten years later to clear his name. Jeannie is taken by surprise and shoots him. She realizes too late who he is and is determined to help him heal. In the ten years, Duncan has been in Ireland, making a name for himself as a mercenary named the Black Scotsman. He knows there is still a price on his head, but he is determined to clear his name.  Meanwhile, Jeannie married a Gordon, ensuring that the son she conceived with Duncan had a name and a future. When Duncan left, Jeannie felt she had no choice. She was honest with her husband and he agreed to raise their son as his own. After all these years, no one has even minimally suspected their deception. Now her husband is dead from an infected wound and Duncan is back in Scotland. She must keep her secret to protect her son’s inheritance.

The tale follows their attempts at finding out who betrayed who ten years ago. Meanwhile, the two spend all their time arguing and trying to work through their mistrust to find the truth. Of course, Jeannie is hiding the biggest secret of all. I found their battles tedious. The style of the author is to give first one perspective and then the other. At times, they rehashed the same scene from each perspective. They each had too much pride and were depicted as successful and independent individuals.  Yet, they couldn’t control their lust and their internal struggles often dealt with how they could keep the other from knowing the effect they had on the other.  This got old very quickly but went on and on and on, even once they reconciled.

The ending was predictable and the mystery of who was at fault was not hard to discern.  Duncan’s men seemed interesting, but played small roles. Cast members were characters seen in other stories – a hateful mother-in-law, an adoring sister, an angry Laird, etc.  For those who have read the other parts of this trilogy, there were visits by the other couples, which did little to enhance the story. Highland Scoundrel stood on its own; alas the legs it stood on were weaker than most. 

--Shirley Lyons

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