By J.L. Merrow
Oh, lord, I do hope this is the beginning of a great series. I am a particular fan of JL Merrow, and relish the very British richness of her settings, her language and her characters. Not every one of her books gets a prize, but this one is a real winner.
Now, this was recommended to me by friends who know two things about me: (1) I almost only wear bow ties, every day, to work (for over 30 years); (2) I have an obsession with gingers. Lots of red hair in my family, and my only regret in life is that I don't have it myself.
But these were only the excuses to read this book.
There are two things Merrow brings to this book that run rather deeper than the gentle, sweet romance at its core. First, there is a fascinating thread dealing with class. Americans don't truly understand class any more. After 300 some years we've finally lost sight of what actual class is, and have confused it with race and money and celebrity. Class consciousness, is, of course, not entirely a good thing, because it divides and excludes.
That’s one point made in “Caught!” The private-school-educated Robert Emeny, with his elegant accent and bow ties, is from a different world than Sean Grant, the rough-and-tumble ginger rat-catcher with his motorcycle and leather jacket. But, with Merrow’s deft management, we begin to see that true intelligence can be far more attractive than a “good” family, and there are many ways to be a gentle man. Notions of class in the UK have softened a great deal since the days of Jane Austen, but they’ve not disappeared entirely. Merrow makes good use of contemporary nuances of class in the same kind of setting that Jane Austen grappled with the same issues two centuries ago.
The other thoughtful thread woven through the text is that of bisexuality—something that generally gets treated in a purely romantic way in most books. Interestingly, Sean Grant is not the only bisexual man in “Caught!” Robert’s uncertainty about having a relationship with a bisexual is echoed with almost comic timing in his prep-school classmate Malcolm Fordham, a onetime friend-with-benefits who has gone on to get married and sire a child. Once again, without being remotely ham-fisted, Merrow opens our minds a bit to let some fresh air in, while having her characters cope with things that many of us don’t think about.
As in all of Merrow’s best books, “Caught!” is full of humor, from smiles to quiet giggles to laugh-out-loud moments. Robert Emeny (whose name is a running joke throughout) is a classic British fusspot. But while he might be finicky and slightly OCD, he’s also sexy and smart, and can laugh at his own foibles. His best teacher friend, Rose, is a warm and familiar character, acting as a sounding board for Robert’s anxieties. She manages to be both wise and vulnerable, needing Robert’s generous heart as much as he needs hers.
As a final comment, I’d simply like to point out that Robert Emeny is very good with children. He has run away from a posh secondary school (the reason for which is part of the plot) to teach little ones at a church-affiliated village school. Nothing much is ever made of it, directly, but as a parent, I was watching carefully. Not once does he make a false step with either his seven-year-old charges or their motley crew of parents. This is an extremely important point, but one which Merrow allows us to absorb on our own. I’d only like to call attention to the scene between Robert and the factory-worker father of one of his pupils, a sensitive little boy he calls Young Charlie. It is one of the sweetest, most touching scenes I’ve read in a long time. It could be the start of a whole spinoff novel.
And, with that in mind, I have to say I hope Ms. Merrow will produce the next of the Shamwell novels post haste.
There are two things Merrow brings to this book that run rather deeper than the gentle, sweet romance at its core. First, there is a fascinating thread dealing with class. Americans don't truly understand class any more. After 300 some years we've finally lost sight of what actual class is, and have confused it with race and money and celebrity. Class, is, of course, not entirely a good thing, because it divides and excludes