A novel set in northern England in the late 18th century, with plenty of local color, romance, intrigue, and deception.
All the action arises from an initial confidence trick, in which Mary Jebb tries to cheat two brothers, Michael and Peter Croxon, out of a £1 note. Enraged, Michael pursues her through the streets of Manchester, catches her, and later testifies at her trial. Although Mary is at first sentenced to be hanged, her sentence is commuted to transportation—seven years at Botany Bay. While Mary is languishing in Australia and seemingly nursing a desire for revenge, Michael meets and marries Grace Moore, a woman made vulnerable by her substantial land holdings and Michael’s substantial ambition. Michael’s character flaws are numerous, primarily insensitivity to Grace and indifference to anything other than his own drive to be rich and powerful, largely at her expense. After five years, Mary returns and, with falsified personal credentials, takes on a new name (Peg Blissett) and a new occupation (cook at Delafosse Hall, the Croxons’ Lancashire residence). Grace, who narrates a large part of the novel, is naïve to a fault and at first believes Michael can’t be trying to swindle her. She establishes a relationship sub rosa with Mary/Peg, unwisely making her a confidante. Ironically, while Grace is being duped by her husband, his schemes are not thriving but rather backfiring, making him ever more desperate. Through a series of surprising reversals, both Mary/Peg and Michael are revealed to be something other than they originally appear. And if fraud and double-dealing are not enough, the novel even includes an 18th-century recipe at the head of every chapter, inviting the reader to sample dishes such as a Warbling Hen and Yorkshire Fat Rascals.
For fans of conniving—and not particularly lovable—rogues and roguesses.