Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Customs officer Peregrine Dean is sent by his patron to investigate rumors of corruption in the Porthkennack customs house. There he is tasked by the local magistrate to bring down the villainous Tomas Quick, a smuggler with fingers in every pie in town. Fired with zeal and ambition, and struck to the core by his first glimpse of Tomas, Perry determines to stop at nothing until he has succeeded.
Tomas Quick is an honest thief—a criminal regarded by the town as their local Robin Hood. He’s also an arrogant man who relishes the challenge posed by someone as determined and intelligent as Perry. Both of them come to enjoy their cat-and-mouse rivalry a little too much.
But the eighteenth century is a perilous time for someone like Perry: a black man in England. Two have already disappeared from the wrecks of ships. Tomas and Perry must forsake their competition and learn to trust each other if they are to rescue them, or Perry may become the third victim.
Back to that historic seaside village of Porthkennack again we go in Contraband Hearts (Porthkennack #10) by Alex Beecroft, one of my favorite ongoing series by multiple authors. Only this time, we journey way back into Porthkennack’s history which is rife with smuggling, ship wrecks, profiteering, and in this case, it seems the mystery of the missing slaves who ought to be free men once they reach the shores of those rocky cliffs outside of their owners reach. How I love this series and small complicated township, no matter where the story falls on its timeline.
Laid atop a maze of tunnels and small rooms dug into the ground that lead directly to the caves and shoreline (read all the stories written for the series), Porthkennack only looks tidy, and, seemingly normal at first glance. But the truth of Porthkennack often lies beneath the surface of things and people, as it has been shown from story to story, whether it be from Porthkennack’s convoluted and twisted past to it’s present, who’s ties to it’s past are almost iron clad. Especially with its ancient families.
I love the historic stories and here Alex Beecroft has crafted one both timely and timeless. Due to it’s location atop the perilous cliffs, riff with caves perfect for hiding smugglers and “misplaced” goods, Porthkennack’s citizens are a tightly knit village who survives based on cooperation, their wits, and floundering ships lost upon their shorelines. Oh and wonderful harvests of fish too. Beecroft builds this gritty, down to earth community with authenticity, heart, and verve. At the top of Porthkennack is the Quick family who rules over all, leaving little for the township and most for themselves. Tomas Quick, who’s relation to the family is uncertain is beloved by the town and not so by the local magistrate and Quick family. Which is why Customs officer Peregrine Dean is sent to the seaside town.
Ah yes, the outsider sent to investigate corruption and smuggling. In the 18th century. Made all the more fascinating because Peregrine Dean is a black man who has never been a slave. An Englishman with a mentor, he hopes for grand things for himself with the service. So it’s with a certain zeal that he’s going to approach this job.
Again, the characterization of Peregrine is perfect. As is the shocks that await him. For in some respects, Perry has been insulated away from the realities of what it actually feels like to be black and have your freedom taken away from you, to be considered a “product” to be traded and sold. Beecroft works that element and the essence of the slave trade in here fluidly and subtly. Plus you can see why that aspect of Peregrine’s personality fights so hard against what is before him. Reality is a hard truth here for him to accept. He has never seen himself as anything other than an Englishman and has thought that to be true mostly of others. He is about to find out that the world outside of London is not as expected.
Tomas Quick is another wonderful character complete with mother and support of his community (equally made up of believable villagers and seafaring scoundrels as the reader will discover. Tomas has his own agenda here, along with established businesses. His attraction to Peregrine (same sex attraction) and his acceptance of it is based on his mother’s attitude and background. So the author’s case for their relationship is grounded and seems realistic.
There is also a delightful twist at the end that I throughly enjoyed!
Taking another journey to Porthkennack’s past for a romance, some mystery, considerable suspense and hijinks, and just plain grand storytelling makes me recommend Contraband Hearts (Porthkennack #10) by Alex Beecroft all the more. I just adore this series and this book (and author) is just one more reason why.
Cover art: L.C. Chase is exquisite. This is Peregrine Dean at his finest. Love that cover.