Tregaron’s Daughter – Madeleine Brent

Tregaron's Daughter ALB

A historical novel about a woman who lives a quiet life in Cornwall with her fisherman father, until a series of strangers and events lead her to Venice and a possible inheritance. 1971.

Whew! Let’s see if I remember how to write a book review.

Some of you may have noticed my absence this past month, and here’s why I’ve been gone: first, I was in Europe traveling with my family. We visited Italy, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, and Slovenia (yep, better pull up Google for that one). On this trip, I also figured out what I want to do with my life, which was a HUGE relief, as I’ve been floundering a bit since graduating from college. So, since I finally got the “what” of my life figured out, I’ve been busy sorting out the “where” and “how” parts. For the moment I’m back with my folks in Texas, and within a month I’ll be relocating to the mid-Atlantic region.

So yes, big changes in my life, and lots of them, all happening at once…and in spite of everything I’ve managed to do some reading!

For our stay in Venice I specifically sought out some Venice-based literature. Luckily, since I’d just read and loved Golden Urchin, Madeleine Brent was fresh on my mind and I didn’t have to look too far for that special Venice book.

Tregaron’s Daughter starts in Cornwall, where our protagonist Cadi lives with her father, a fisherman. They live generally quiet lives, until one day Cadi is by their cottage and happens to look out into the bay. What she sees is a man on a small boat, which in itself is nothing special…except that this is a treacherous bay that the locals know to avoid under any circumstances.

This man on the boat is clearly a stranger, then, and what’s more, Cadi immediately perceives that he is in danger. She takes off running, seeking help from her father and enlisting a stranger on horseback in the process. The three of them row madly out to the distressed man in the boat, hoping not to be killed themselves during the rescue. Cadi shows her competence, her concern for the life of this stranger, and her not inconsiderable willpower.

Tregaron's DaughterIn case you’ve never read this author’s work, Madeleine Brent (who was actually a man) creates some really able-bodied, gutsy, clear-headed female protagonists. Brent’s protagonists, such as Cadi Tregaron in Tregaron’s Daughter, are what make his books stand out in the historical fiction genre. Sure, I’ve encountered other praiseworthy female protagonists in historical fiction—Sara Dane and Kitty of Each Bright River come immediately to mind—but Brent’s truly occupy a class of their own.

All right, back to the plot: when Cadi earns our respect during this rescue operation, she also earns the respect and gratitude of the man whom she helps save. He’s an older man, roughly her father’s age, and the man develops a fatherly concern for this compassionate Cornish girl.

The stranger on the horseback, also part of the rescue operation, is actually the man’s nephew. The nephew comes across as a bit haughty, and for a while he fades into the background of the story.

After a few days in Cadi’s village, the strangers go back home, but before they leave, the rescued man impresses upon Cadi that if she’s ever in need of help, just as he was in such dire need of help, she should not hesitate to contact him. He would be most eager to be of any possible assistance to her, whatever the circumstances.

Unfortunately, Cadi actually does have to call upon him for help. (But I won’t tell you when or why!) She requests a small amount of monetary help from him, and he responds by showing up at her door, ready to completely take her under his benevolent (and financial) wing. And thus Cadi is transformed overnight from a fisherman’s daughter into a young lady of the English upper classes, circa 1910.

In time, and with the support of her benefactor, Cadi unravels a mystery regarding her Italian grandmother’s heritage. The moderately Gothic mystery (which I also won’t give away) takes Cadi to Venice, where she may or may not be an heiress to a title and a fortune…and she may or may not live to inherit them. Along the way, there’s that handsome but distant nephew, popping in and out of the picture, never clearly either a hero or a villain.

Like in Golden Urchin, our heroine is transported from her old life into a new, very different life, but her skills from the past are unexpectedly vital to her survival in that new life. I love Brent’s competent heroines! I love that they have the handsome hero nearby, but the hero only come to the “rescue” once the heroine has actually done most of her own rescuing. Boom! Now that’s the way to do it. Teamwork, people.

Okay, okay, I could rave on and on about my love for these ladies. I have to say that I found Golden Urchin to be an all around stronger and unique book, but Tregaron’s Daughter is still definitely worth a read. The mystery part of the plot is complex and difficult to unravel until the very end of the book. And if you’ve ever been to Venice, hope to someday visit Venice, or even happen to be in Venice right now, Tregaron’s Daughter is wonderfully evocative of the city.

As a freebie, I’m throwing in a trip photo! And if anyone can recommend another little-known, old-ish book set in Venice, please do share! It really is such a special place.

Venice ALB

13 thoughts on “Tregaron’s Daughter – Madeleine Brent

  1. Good to see you back & with a review of a book that I remember reading & enjoying many years ago. Good luck with your future plans & I’m very envious of your fantastic holiday. That photo of Venice is just gorgeous. Have you read Daphne Du Maurier’s short story, Don’t Look Now? That’s set in Venice & is very atmospheric.

    • Thank you! It’s great to be back. It’s also comforting that while everything else is in transition in my life, this blog is still here, still waiting for more reviews. And of course I love that my readers/commenters are still here! I hadn’t heard of that Daphne Du Maurier story–I’ll have to look into it! Thanks for the idea.

  2. Welcome back! I was wondering where you were. So glad it was off on holiday. 🙂

    Lyn snuck in ahead of me with her recommendation of ‘Don’t Look Now’ – an excellent du Maurier short, most often seen in a collection under that name of dark, suspenseful stories. It was the first one hat sprang to mind, and yes, very atmospheric.

    And how about Patricia Highsmith’s ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ (1955), if you’re into darkish psychological drama? Or Rumer Godden’s not particularly old (1994) ‘Pippa Passes’, which isn’t one of her best books by a long shot but which *is* highly appreciative of Venice. Or the Helen MacInnes thriller ‘The Venetian Affair'(1963).

  3. Umm, coming back to say that none of the ones I recommended are really “little known” – pretty mainstream, really. The Helen MacInnes might be the most “forgotten” of the 3; ‘Pippa’ is too new to be really in the running; ‘Mr Ripley’ had a boost into public awareness from the film version.

    • That’s quite all right! I’m still glad for the recommendations. In fact, right now I’m reading something that’s incredibly nice and pleasant (glowing review coming soon!), but for some reason it’s put me in the mood for something a bit more “edgy.” I also recently read a ghost story (another review coming! golly I’m behind) that was pretty benign, as it turned out. I want dark! I want chills! I want drama! And THAT is surely a first…!

    • Thanks! Based on the multiple recommendations here, The Venetian Affair is now on my list of ALB candidates! Miss Garnet’s Angel also sounds interesting, especially because it contains a building restoration theme (my favorite!).

  4. Welcome back! That sounds like an amazing trip and the photo of Venice is stunning. I hope you’ll share more photos – especially of Slovenia. It almost made it onto my itinerary for this year’s trip but didn’t make the final cut.

    • Thank you, Claire! Hmm, let’s see if I can insert a Slovenia photo somewhere…hmm…Well, I don’t think I’ve heard of any books that take place in Slovenia, so I might just have to show off its picturesque beauty elsewhere! I totally recommend visiting there. It’s my newly-appointed “Favorite Country I’ve Ever Visited.” Ljubljana, for one, is the only city I’ve ever actually enjoyed being in. Now that’s saying something!

  5. Guess what I found today? My car was in the mechanic’s shop for repairs, and I was trudging about town killing time, and I ducked into a little second-hand shop to browse about and Bingo! – there was ‘Tregaron’s Daughter.’ In hardcover, 1971 Book Club Edition, with very good dust jacket. Cost me all of $3. Onto the “read soon” pile, in honour of your post, and of glorious serendipity. Don’t you *love* when this happens? I have the best luck some days! 🙂 (And if it hadn’t been for this post I likely would have passed right by. But both title and author’s name were fresh in my mind, and it jumped right out at me.)

    • To say I love the serendipity is a serious understatement…To me, when things line up in book world, it’s a sign that everything in the universe is in perfect balance. I’m always curious whether I notice something (such as an author) because I’ve just heard their name, or if the author’s name would have jumped out at me regardless. It’s kismet! It’s the book gods, smiling benevolently on us humble, supplicant readers!

      *ahem* Anyways, I’m so glad you found a copy!

  6. All of Madeline’s books are great! And they all feature heroines of very exotic backgrounds introduced into conventional society. One of them is a circus performer, as one example. They just barrel along fearlessly. They do very much follow a certain formula. But it’s a great formula. My absolute favorite is Moonraker’s Bride. I think I remember one scene in that one, that was really funny. Somehow her new English (She was left an orphan in China) family’s pet dog comes into the dinner conversation, and our heroine is asked if she likes dogs. She replies that, yes, they are delicious. Pandemonium ensues.

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