This historical novel is the fifth book from former Fleet Street journalist Diana Norman - wife of film critic Barry Norman. Set in Boston and London during the 18th century at the time of the colonial rebellion, Makepeace Burke is our hero, a feisty twenty-four-year-old woman who owns and runs a tavern on the waterfront in Boston. Her life is ordinary and somewhat stressful but she is content. However, everything changes one early morning when she saves the life of an English aristocrat, Sir Philip Dapifer.
Dapifer came to Boston to get a divorce from his first wife, who has been having an affair with his best friend. He is also in town on business, to help impose an unwelcome tax on the people of the city who are already suffering under English rule. Makepeace, a devout Christian, saves Sir Dapifer from drowning and hides him in her bedroom until he is recovered enough to flee from his persecutors. However, word gets out that she has harboured an enemy, she is branded a traitor and her tavern is set on fire. She is prepared to stay and battle it out until her younger brother is attacked, tarred and feathered and is lucky to escape with his life.
Sir Dapifer offers to take Makepeace to England with him; they fall in love and get married during the voyage back to England. He is an older man, who is extremely wealthy, but he is also kind and good-natured. All could have gone well except for the fact that his first wife, a beautiful and mad Englishwoman, is set upon taking him for every penny she can. A public battle between the two women begins and it is this that leads to Sir Dapifer's downfall. Makepeace - shunned by her own people in Boston - is also out of place and unpopular in England. She is left to fend for herself and her motley crew who have travelled from Boston with her. Life is hard, but the desire for revenge spurs her on to great heights. Her personal life takes second place to her new role as pioneering businesswoman. Not surprisingly she builds an empire and looks set to conquer her enemies.
Norman writes well with an intelligent style. The idea behind the book and the opening pages are very sharp and draw the reader in, but the heroine Makepeace Burke disappoints. The novel reads like a Barbara Taylor Bradford special - all the key ingredients are present, drama, danger, passion and the class struggle. Readers could be forgiven for initially thinking that Makepeace and her family could spin off into several sequels and one day even hit the TV screens. But it is not to be, as the last chapter finds each character achieving a certain kind of convenient - if unbelievable - closure.