Secrets of the Highwayman
by Sara MacKenzie
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-079552-2
***
Secrets of the Highwayman is the second installment in Sara MacKenzie’s time travel series about the redemption of good men gone bad. Several men from different time periods are sleeping in the “in between worlds,” watched over by an immortal sorceress who wakes them one by one as their perfect mates are maneuvered into position to help them. The hero of this book is Nathaniel Raven, a veteran of the Napoleonic war who was known to his friends as “dashing and reckless, brave and true,” but was slain while committing highway robbery. It is now two hundred years later, and the time is ripe for him to awaken and clear his name.

The only woman able to help Nathaniel is Melanie Jones, a lawyer in charge of settling the estate of the last person to own Ravenswood, Nathaniel’s former home. Level-headed Melanie thinks herself to be the last person to become involved in a centuries-old murder mystery. Her no-nonsense approach to life has earned her a very nice position at her law firm and Melanie has no time for mysticism or romance, preferring to invest her energy and time into her career.

Once Nathaniel and Melanie meet, though, she has a tough time disassociating herself from Nathaniel’s problems. It soon becomes obvious that he and his family were terribly wronged, and Melanie is drawn into helping him find the truth. Solving the puzzle of the past and clearing Nathaniel’s name puts both of their lives in danger.

The story opens very charmingly with Melanie encountering Nathaniel’s ghost on the dark and lonely country road which leads to the Cornish coast and Ravenswood. Nathaniel appears in his highwayman’s garb with mask and cloak and riding a dark horse, startling Melanie by seeming to appear from nowhere. As she speeds along the country road, Nathaniel keeps pace with her on the other side of a stone wall, grinning and flirting with her through the eyeholes of his mask. When she speeds up, so does he, until she’s driving along the treacherous road like a madwoman – and then he disappears.

There are several other scenes which stand out, due to the author’s excellent imagery. The scenery and occupants of the past and the in-between worlds are colorful and easy to picture. But “easy to picture” doesn’t necessarily mean “pleasant to picture.” Melanie’s first trip through the doorway to the in between worlds is a little bit of a shock, and watching the pieces of Nathaniel’s past that lead to his downfall is pretty chilling.

The fly in the ointment is Melanie. Her willful disbelief became annoying. Her insistence on the importance of work was exhausting. Why Nathaniel decided to be attracted to her is another mystery.

Speaking of mysteries, why in the world did Nathaniel take to highway robbery? Yes, bad things happened. Yes, he was confused. But what exactly did becoming a highwayman do for him? It was never explained satisfactorily for me and, frankly, that big hole in the plot ruined the rest of the book.

The premise for this series is interesting and different, and Secrets of the Highwayman should have been a wonderful read. It just wasn’t, though. Melanie and Nathaniel had little chemistry. The story lagged in the middle. The villain of the piece is obvious to everyone but the main characters. All in all, it’s a book that’s too easy to put down to deserve anything more than a three heart rating. Maybe the next book in the series will live up to its potential

--Wendy Livingston


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