A Desperate Fortune

Written by Susanna Kearsley
Review by Tamela McCann

Amateur code-breaker Sara Thomas is engaged to decipher a cryptic journal left behind by Mary Dundas more than three hundred years previously. Sara’s a bit odd; it doesn’t take long for us to learn that she’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a fact her cousin tries continually to both celebrate and protect. Sara moves to France to work in the home of Claudine Pelletier, where the journal is housed, and works diligently to discover the secrets held within the pages. Interspersed within Sara’s story is that of Mary Dundas herself, who longs for more adventure in her life, and finds it when asked to pretend to be the sister of a man suspected of illegal activity against the government while he is hiding in plain sight. Events go awry, however, and Mary is forced to go on the run with not only the man, but two more people of dubious character. Both Sara in the present day and Mary in 1732 begin to question their decisions and whether or not they are doing the right thing in several circumstances.

A Desperate Fortune is well-written with a great premise, but this reader never found the story particularly riveting for either main character. As Mary is dragged around the French countryside I found myself wishing the plot would move along toward a more exciting conclusion. For Sara’s side, while I liked her well enough, it began to wear on me that her Asperger’s was the defining condition of her life. Neither woman’s romance felt very genuine, and I found the secondary characters to be less than riveting. Overall I liked the story but was surprisingly let down by the general execution, which seemed to drag.