Colleen Coble wrote historical fiction early on in her career, but today she's best known for writing romantic suspense. With THE LIGHTKEEPER'S DAUGHTER, she returns to historical fiction, incorporating romantic suspense into the story of a young woman who is not only an entirely different person than she believed she was but also the focus of a complex scheme involving money, matrimony and, of course, murder.
"Complex" is an apt description for the novel's plot as well. When we first meet Addie Sullivan, the title character, she's living a poverty-level existence in a lighthouse on the California coast with her unloving and unlikable mother. Or, at least, she thinks it's her mother. A stranger arrives at the lighthouse and informs her that the people she has known as her mother and her deceased father were not her biological parents but rescued her following a shipwreck when she was a toddler. This being the dawn of the 20th century, adoption procedures were lax, and the Sullivans are paid a fair amount of money to rear Addie, whose biological mother was never found following the shipwreck, and to keep her identity a secret.
Mr. Driscoll, the stranger, claims to be her uncle and secures a position for her as governess to her biological father's grandson, Edward (yes, this is a complex plot). Driscoll and Addie agree to keep her true identity from her wealthy father, Henry Eaton, while Driscoll tries to track down irrefutable evidence that she is Eaton's flesh and blood.
To complicate matters further, and to add the all-important romantic angle to the plot, Edward's father --- the widower of Addie's half sister, whom she never met --- also lives in the Eaton mansion and is very much available. Addie falls hopelessly in love with John, and eventually it becomes clear that the attraction is mutual. But there's the not-so-little matter of Addie's true identity to deal with, and as long as she harbors that secret, she realizes that she cannot become involved with John.
The suspense angle starts with the tension that results from Addie living under the same roof with her father and she and Driscoll's efforts to keep that relationship a secret from everyone else in the household and the community. It heats up with several physical assaults, a botched kidnapping, murder, and attempted murder. This is the area where Coble's strengths as an author are especially evident; few readers are likely to suspect who is behind all the mayhem, and fewer still will be able to predict the role played by an English nobleman.
That said, the novel is not without its challenges. One is the confusing cast of characters. It was difficult to keep them all straight at first, with several characters married to other characters' siblings and so forth. I didn't have all the relationships sorted straight until well into the book, and I wouldn't take an oath that I have them sorted out even now. And I'm certain I don’t understand the motivations behind some of the characters' actions or whether those that I did understand actually made sense.
Finally, there's Addie herself. If ever there was a perfect fictional character, this one is it. She's beautiful, compassionate and spirited, as well as a talented seamstress (somehow, she managed to keep current with the latest Parisian fashions while living in a remote lighthouse at the turn of the last century), a devoted Christian, and the perfect prospect for marriage and motherhood. She's even a budding social reformer and feminist --- sort of.
Anyone who has read Colleen Coble knows what she is capable of. She excels at plotting romance and suspense, and here does a decent job of creating a believable historical setting. And while the characters in THE LIGHTKEEPER'S DAUGHTER may not be as well-rounded as those she usually creates, the mystery and intrigue is enough to keep fans of romantic suspense reading to the end.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on January 12, 2010