Jack Campbell, a quiet, reserved, keeping-to-himself kind of man, is now the local executioner. He lives alone as he has taken a vow of celebacy, vowing never to bring a child into the world as he was, believing himself to be destined to live his life alone. He has surrounded himself with animal friends, his books, a small circle of friends, and the comfort of a closely guarded, regulated life. He is well-known for his fair spirit and his quiet good judgment. He is respected in the village where he was brought as a child and where he lived with his mother and stepfather and half-brother. It was also here that his mother was murdered, and where his half-brother still lives. There has been "bad blood" between them since they were children. They haven't spoken one word to each other for ten years.
Into Jack's quiet life comes Claudia, a frenchwoman running from the French Revolutioners. She finds herself in this part of Scotland because she is the illegitimate daughter of a Scottish aristocrat and she is trying to reach sactuary there. Her money and personal belongings are stolen, she is assaulted and injured in a pub, and before you know it, Jack Campbell is breaking up the attck and finding car for her wounds. In panic Claudia continues to try to reach her destination with her father, even going so far as to steal (borrow) a horse for which she is hauled before the magistrate and given the death sentence. (From the frying pan into the fire, it would seem.) Several in the village speak up for her and her sentence is commuted--she is now Jack's prisoner for six months. If she attempts to escape, her death sentence will again apply.
This is not a simple story--lots of characters, several story strands which do eventually come together but which are woven throughout the fabric of the novel, and twists and turns that keep the interest level high and the action surprising at times. Since this is a historical romance novel, it is no surprise that Claudia and Jack fall in love. That is not the happy ending. Their story just keeps on getting more and more complicated, almost like a Greek tragedy. Just when the reader thinks they can move on to something positive, there is another incident that threatens their future together. Through Jack's conflict with his half-brother, the reader can discern the anger and hurt that grows and deepens into hatred over time--his obsessive hatred of Jack drives him to violence and crime. On the other hand the reader encounters friendship and generosity in Jack's open acceptance of Claudia and the innkeeper's willingness to give her a chance to better her situation. Claudia's father is a rogue and a blackhearted opportunist, but even there Jack's giving nature and his inner strength prevail. This novel is an insightful study of human nature, of the culture of the times, and the true nature of evil.
Ms Tarr has an impressive educational background and some fine writing accomplishments to her credit. She has done well in this book as the storyline and character development reveal a talent that has been honed through experience. Obviously romance fans are looking for good reading entertainment and they will find that here. But it is also a novel that educates as it entertains by opening up a chapter in Scottish history that makes for good storytelling and good reading. I give this book a 3.75 out of 5.