Top positive review
A story of love despite hardships
Reviewed in the United States on October 15, 2019
This is the second of Tamara Alexander’s Belle Meade Plantation novels. Once again, an excellent book, with engaging, believable characters, and a plot that is thoroughly in keeping with the historical period in which it is set. Several of the characters in the book are based on real people (or real horses) who lived at the time.
Maggie Linden lives at Linden Downs, one of the neighboring plantations to Belle Meade. (I don’t know if Linden Downs was a real plantation or not.) Between taxes, vandalism, the loss of her four brothers in the war, and her father’s failing health, the fortunes of Linden Downs have taken a serious downturn since the war.
Besides her own beauty, Maggie has only one seriously valuable asset left – her prized thoroughbred Bourbon Belle. She has trained this horse herself in the hopes of seeing her race in the inaugural Peyton Stakes to be held that fall. The purse from that race would be enough to pay the back taxes on the plantation and pay for some needed improvements.
Belle could easily win the race. But of course, nothing is ever really that easy. The jockeys for the races at the local track are all young black boys, and Willie, the boy Maggie has been using for her jockey, is scared into leaving town with his family when one of their neighbors is hanged by a group that acts like the KKK.
Cullen McGrath has newly arrived in Nashville from Ireland (via London). He is looking to buy a quiet farm on the outskirts of town to rebuild his shattered life. He has had bad experience with horse racing and wants nothing to do with the town’s thoroughbreds. In town less than two days, he has already encountered a prejudice against the Irish among the locals. (Sheesh – was there anybody we did like back then?) Cullen figures his best chance to find a place is to look for farms about to be sold at auction and try to see if he can get someone to sell to him for cash before they have to resort to the auction. This is how he meets Gilbert Linden, Maggie’s father. Before they can discuss the problem, they are interrupted by the spectacle of a man beating a horse, and Cullen rides to the horse’s rescue. After seeing him handle the horse, Gilbert Linden changes his mind about selling the farm and offers it to Cullen for the price of the back taxes – with the provision that Cullen will marry Maggie into the bargain.
Maggie is shocked, protests the idea of marrying an Irishman, and all that, but goes through with the marriage for her father’s sake. Slowly they begin to make accommodations for each other, but the people who don’t want to see an Irishman succeed and don’t want to see Maggie race Bourbon Belle and don’t want to see anybody hiring free Negroes don’t make life easy for them or for the people Cullen hires to work the farm.