Cross Stitch“I had both hands beneath its jaw now. The fingers of one hand were actually in its mouth. I could feel a crushing sting across my gloved knuckles, but ignored it as I forced the hairy head back, and back again, using the angle of the wall as a fulcrum for the lever of the beast’s body. I thought my arms would break, but this was the only chance.

There was no audible noise, but I felt the reverberation through the whole body as the neck snapped. The straining limbs – and the bladder – at once relaxed. The intolerable strain on my arms released, I dropped, as limp as the dying wolf. I could feel the beast’s heart, the only part still capable of a death struggle, fibrillating beneath my cheek. The stringy fur stank of ammonia and soggy hair. I wanted to move away, but could not.”

The premise of this book is that the heroine, Claire Randall, is a woman who, after serving as a nurse during the second world war and then going for a second honeymoon with the husband from whom she has long been separated, is catapulted through time by the ancient magic of standing stones in the Scottish highlands. She ends up in the middle of the eighteenth century, caught up in skirmishes between the Scottish clansmen and the English redcoats in the time shortly before the Battle of Culloden.

Unfortunately, the author cannot help but include a good deal of romantic interest, portraying Claire as torn between her love for her 1940s husband Frank and her passion for the dashing young Highlander Jamie Fraser who she meets in the 1740s. Nor can she help including a good deal of Claire being rescued from her assorted misadventures by Jamie and by other men. There is also an episode in which Claire is beaten – I think they call it “lawful chastisement” – the outcome of which is that Claire, eventually, accepts the justice of her punishment: I think it is fair to say that I have pretty mixed feelings about this.

However, all that said, Claire is pretty feisty herself. She stands up to Jamie and to the other clansmen with amazing ferocity and fury. She often keeps up with them despite physical disadvantages, by sheer guts and bloodymindedness. She swears like a trooper. She kills a man who is trying to rape her (she suffers numerous attempted rapes), and two other men who threaten her and Jamie’s escape from a barbaric English prison. Putting her nursing skills to good use, she heals and mends battle wounds that would drive most of us to faint. At one point she is on the brink of being drowned in a witch trial and is rescued both by Jamie but also by the heroism of her fellow accused, the murderous Geillie Duncan. She kills a wolf with her bare hands. And, ultimately, it is Claire who rescues Jamie from the brink, and saves both his body and his soul.

On the whole, an entertaining romp, in which good more or less triumphs over evil, with the help of, among other things, some cows, and a fair bit of opium.

Here’s an Amazon link.
My copy came from the library.