The Journey Home
by Fiona Hood-Stewart
(Mira, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-55166-606-5
***
The Journey Home is a sprawling book that takes its characters from the lowlands of Scotland, to the great cities of South America, to Miami, to Switzerland, and finally back to Scotland where old secrets are revealed and old wrongs righted. It is chock full of characters and plot. Indeed, its complexity is probably responsible for my three heart rating - not because I don’t like complex books but rather because the story bogged down in the middle.

When Rob Dunbar sent his wife pregnant wife Mhairie to the American colonies before the Battle of Culloden, he set in motion a train of events which would insure that over 150 years later, the rightful heir would return to Dunbar House. Jack Buchanan is an American hotel magnate who, while visiting a business associate in Scotland, meets India Moncrieff and first sees her magnificent home, Dunbar House. The estate has been in the Dunbar family for 700 years but India and her half sister Serena are the last of the line. Their mother has just died and it seems likely that the house will have to be sold. Jack immediately sees the potential of Dunbar House; it would make a superb luxury hotel. But India is appalled at the idea that the family home would be put to such a use.

Selfish Serena has no such qualms; she wants the money from whatever source she can get it. India has actually spent little of her time at Dunbar House. Her mother’s second marriage to a rich industrialist had not gone over well with the local gentry. Still, when she returns to bury her mother, she feels an unexpected attachment to the estate. But there simply is not the money to hold on to Dunbar House.

India is a successful interior designer. She heads off to Argentina to help a friend re-do the family estancia. There, whom should she meet but Jack Buchanan, in Buenos Aires to oversee the building of a new hotel there. Jack hires India to do the decorating and the two quickly build on their acquaintance in Scotland. They journey to Rio where Jack saves India from danger and onto Miami when tragedy strikes the Buchanan family. It looks as if their relationship will flourish, until India discovers that Jack is in the process of buying Dunbar House. (He thought Serena was the sole heir and she, determined to sell the place, did not inform her absent sister of the negotiations.)

At this point, the story comes perilously close to the dreaded “big misunderstanding.” No, let’s be honest. It does descend into the dreaded “big misunderstanding” as India concludes that Jack had merely been using her to get his hands on the house. She sets out to quash the deal. Then Jack discovers why he is so drawn to Dunbar House and the plot thickens. Someone is willing to commit murder to get possession of the estate.

As I try to categorize The Journey Home, I keep thinking that it resembles the few Danielle Steel and Judith Krantz books I have read, dealing as it does with what is clearly the “jet set” (is this term out of date?). Jack is a self-made man, although I wasn’t quite sure how he made so much money so quickly. India, despite the fact that she works for a living, had a privileged background. The secondary characters inhabit the rarefied heights of society for the most part.

This is a plot-driven, rather than a character-driven book. I can’t say that any of the characters particularly came alive for me. The plot had some unlikely elements, but for the most part, the story held together. The Journey Home meets my criteria for an acceptable romance. I didn’t have any trouble putting it down when life intervened, but I didn’t mind picking it up again when time allowed.

--Jean Mason


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