One Good Turn, by Carla Kelly

>> Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Carla Kelly is an author I usually like but don't LOVE. Except for One Good Turn, sequel to her Libby's London Merchant.

A duke who lost the woman he loved to another gets a second chance at happiness when he offers a ride to a Spanish lady and her child.
I loved this book, for its characters, its writing, its lack of glorification of war and for the fact that, in spite of the many horrors which come to light, I felt optimistic when I turned the last page. An A-.

Even when he was at his worst behaviour in Libby, Nez was one charismatic character, and he shines in this, which is very much his story. I didn't think the romance wasn't the most important element here. I saw it more as a story about a man coming to terms with and learning to appreciate himself.

The book is mostly narrated from Nez's POV. Kelly has a very individual style, as she haves her characters talking to themselves in their minds, so we really hear Nez's voice. Liria was more of a cypher. Except for a scene in which she tells Nez what he was already suspecting, we don't see much of her thoughts and reactions. Strangely enough, seeing everything from Nez's POV made the horror of Liria's experiences even more poignant and painful to me. There's a scene which had me in tears: when he really realized what must have happened to her and ends up puking his guts out the window.

There are some graphic descriptions here, and even if they were things that had already happened, and weren't happening in real time as I was reading, they turned my stomach. Kelly very definitely doesn't portray war as dashing, handsome officers riding around, which is the impression I get from many romances. Her war had no good guys, even the ones on the hero's side are capable of atrocities, and there's a hint that Spain's best interests weren't necessarily best served by allying themselves with the British.

If there's a negative here, it's maybe a bit of a spoiler. I hated that the mere possibility of making one of Liria's rapists pay was dismissed so out of hand. "He'll deny it, it's your word against him, blah, blah, blah", but I guess I'm bloodthirsty. I wanted the guy ruined... if not legally, Nez's word would have carried quite a lot of weight, and he would at least have been shamed. Or I'm sorry to be crude, but wouldn't it have been terribly satisfying to hire someone (or rather, several someones) to ambush him somewhere and do to him exactly what he did to Liria? Yep, definitely bloodthirsty of me, and I'm not ashamed of it.

Also, the fact that Nez had been one of those commanders who set his men free to do whatever they wanted in Badajoz left a bad taste in my mouth. It did make the book even more powerful, and he definitely tortured himself about it more than enough, but I really don't know if it's something that could ever be excused.

All through this horror, however, was the conviction that these people were going to be all right, that they would be able to get through this and really be happy, that they hadn't been damaged beyond repair. So I finished the book with a smile on my face.


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