The Mermaid of Penperro by Lisa Cach was first published at The Romance Reader in 2001. I rated it 4-Hearts (B range) with a MPAA content rating of "R."
Konstanze can no longer stomach her existence as wife to the odious, perverted, and much older John Bugg. However, the girl is not a total idiot, and knows that she will have to come up with a solid plan to obtain her freedom - 1804 England is not exactly helpful to women who wish to leave their husbands. Luckily for Konstanze, her great uncle left her his cottage near Penperro in Cornwall when he died. Therefore, when Bugg takes off on a business trip, Konstanze takes her trusted maid, Hilde, some items for the pawnshops of London and takes off.
Tom Trewella is a businessman in Penperro with big problems. Like the majority of Cornwall’s residents, Tom makes a hefty portion of his living off illegal smuggling. However, now that England is at war with France, the Crown is scrounging around for all the funds it can lay its hands on. Their answer to the smuggling problem is to send the Preventive Water Guard Service to thwart the practice. Unfortunately the head man, Robert Foweather, while a bit dimwitted, is persistent. If only there was a way to get the man out of their hair.
A solution quickly presents itself. Konstanze, while taking a break from settling the cottage, decides to go for a swim in what she believes is a secluded cove - a nude swim. Foweather sneaks up on her, and upon hearing her sing, believes he has seen a mermaid. Seeing a way to distract the man, Tom decides to ask Konstanze for help. The plan is for her to play the part of mermaid and keep Foweather occupied while the smugglers have a chance to move their goods.
Konstanze is not exactly keen on the idea, as smuggling is illegal, and the whole nude swimming episode mightily embarrasses her. Nevertheless, when Tom offers her compensation for her troubles, she knows she would be a fool to pass. That and she finds herself strangely attracted to the man. But how long can they carry on this mermaid charade? Moreover, what will happen when Konstanze’s stepson, John Bugg II, decides to come looking for her?
The Mermaid of Penperro is a fun romance, the perfect cure for when you have had a bad day. Konstanze and Tom have a wonderful, bantering relationship, with plenty of sexual tension to boot. Konstanze is like a bird that has just left the nest, testing her wings, poised for flight, and discovering her true self in her newfound freedom. Tom is an intelligent man, with a ready charm and mischievous streak. They make a good couple, and their time together had me smiling on more than one occasion.
I was less satisfied with Robert Foweather, for no fault of his character, but for the way he is treated. Both John Buggs are suitable villains, worthy of contempt and just plain nasty. Foweather, on the other hand, is like the shy, dull kid in school who everybody made fun of. I felt sorry for the guy. Here he is just trying to do his job, and the romantic couple, along with the entire town, is laughing at him behind his back. It was a little hard for me to swallow. However, the author provides a nice ending for Foweather, one that I was happy to see included.
Also enjoyable was the fact that Cach has written a book about “the little people.” It is 19th century England and there is nary a Duke, Earl or Baron in sight. I like the aristocrats as much as the next girl, but honestly, it is nice to have a pint at the local pub with the common folk every now and again.
Historical purists may have issues with a woman swimming nude and pretending to be a mermaid in 1804 England. Admittedly, I did find myself holding back at first, but there was so much for me to like in The Mermaid of Penperro, that I quickly let go of my reservations. Konstanze, Tom, the mermaid angle, the Buggs, and no aristocrats kept me glued to my seat, and easily turning the pages.
Wendy Looks Back: I remember being suitably charmed by this story, despite myself. Yes, it is definitely of the "light and fluffy" school of historicals, but it was the kind of book that made me feel "happy" while I was reading it. My first read by Cach during my TRR tenure, but not my last.