The Heir of the Castle by Scarlet Wilson. The entire time I was reading it I thought of Awkward Teenage Wendy who I keep locked up in a corner of my psyche and thought about how much she would have loved this story. She would have clutched the book to her non-existent bosom, sighed dreamily, and declared it the BESTEST BOOK EVAH!!!!
For the record, Grown-up Jaded Wendy also liked this story, but it's admittedly not without issues.
Laurie Jenkins is an unhappy, overworked lawyer for a prestigious London law firm. She's smart, came from a working-class background, and when she got accepted to law school her father was so over-the-moon proud. He worked his butt off to help her through law school that it made it impossible for her to admit that she knew the profession wasn't for her almost the moment she landed at Cambridge. Her father now dead, she gets the shock of her life when she receives a letter from a solicitor. Her grandfather, a man who was basically her father's sperm donor, has passed away and she's inherited his castle in Scotland. Well, sort of. Turns out Angus MacLean was a busy guy and had six children by six different women, none of whom he ever acknowledged. Angus stipulated in his will that all relatives come to Scotland to compete in a Murder Mystery Weekend, and the "winner" of the event (the one who guesses whodunit correctly) wins the castle. Laurie can't see how any of this is possibly legal, but heck - girlfriend needs a vacation.
Callan MacGregor essentially grew up at the castle. Angus found him hiding on the grounds one stormy night after Callan's father went into an alcoholic rage. Callan thinks of Angus like a father. Now a wealthy man, he kept trying to convince Angus to sell him the castle. I mean, Angus was a lifelong bachelor with no children, but the man kept claiming he wanted the castle to "stay in the family," which made Callan think there was some distant cousin somewhere. He cannot reconcile that the Angus he knew, the wonderful man, would have six children and not acknowledge them. It's mind-boggling. But now he has all these strangers snooping around where he considers "home" - most of them making no secret of the fact that they plan to sell the antiques and the land to the highest bidder. Then there is Laurie Jenkins, who is so different from the others. Laurie who doesn't seem to care so much about "winning" and more about enjoying the castle, the history, the land. Laurie who seems like she cares about the place as much as he does. But Callan doesn't trust easily.
Seriously, it's like a Scooby Doo cartoon, which is probably why I loved it so dang much. The Murder Mystery Weekend plays a nice backdrop, but doesn't overwhelm the page count. There are a lot of secondary players, but Wilson doesn't make the mistake of spending too much time on them. There's a castle, unknown family history to crack, and two characters who behave in a believable manner. I "got" why Callan was so bitter about all the outsiders. I appreciated that the author addresses the legal elephant in the room by having her characters question it. I loved that when Callan tries to lump Laurie in with the others, she puts him in his place.
What didn't work quite so well was some of the secondary elements to the romance. Part of Callan's baggage is that his mother abandoned him when he was a young boy, leaving him with an abusive, drunk father. The excuse given for this is that she was mentally ill, specifically schizophrenia. This just seemed like a bit much to me. Even with medication, it's a hard row to hoe for schizophrenics and apparently Callan's dad goes off the deep end after she leaves because he loved her so much. I'm not saying schizophrenics can't be lovable, but to get married, get pregnant, and be stable enough to the point where Callan doesn't have any "bad" memories of his mother (only his father's drunken rages)? Then there is the fact that schizophrenia occurs in 1% of the population, but when you have a family history? It jumps up to 10%. So now I'm worrying about future kidlets that Callan and Laurie may have. It would have worked better for me if Mommy were bipolar or, you know, simply left to escape the abuse.
I also had major issues with Angus MacLean. The author does offer up a reason on why he never acknowledged his six (SIX!!!) children, but it strains. I mean, it really strains. Especially since the man lived to be almost 100. But it's hard to write a character, even if he is off page, that is so great with the hero and yet could be such a jerk to his own kids. The author had to come up with something, and unfortunately it just didn't work for me.
Still, I liked this story for the most part. The heroine, a castle, a slightly bitter and wealthy hero - it pushed major nostalgia buttons for me. So much so that I inhaled it in one sitting. Yes, there were issues. Yes, I picked it apart quite a bit. Then Awkward Teenage Wendy kicked Grown-Up Jaded Wendy in the shins.
Final Grade = B-