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Mary Ellen Dennis, the inside back cover tells us, fell in love with the poem “The Highwayman” when she was very young. So did I. She memorized it, and so did I.

“The wind was a torrent of darkness,
Among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon,
Tossed upon cloudy seas..”

For this novel, Ms. Dennis uses the plot of the poem loosely, fleshing out the characters and changing things to suit her story. It makes for a fine Gothic romance: the dashing highwayman, evil sheriff, brave, unconventional heroine, romantic dales, even a ghost or two.

Bess, the landlord’s daughter, falls in love with JRand, the Highwayman, who reminds her of the heroes she creates for her own Gothic novels. (And yes, women were writing Gothic novels in the late 1700’s: Horace Walpole wrote the first one in 1764, and Mrs. Radcliffe made the form madly possible before 1800.) But she is pursued by the dastardly magistrate who is determined to wed her. But first he plans to hang the darkly handsome highwayman.

Together, Bess and Rand face many adventures and close calls, all the while trying to unravel the mystery of how their lives are inextricably bound to the lives of another pair of lovers, Ranulf the Black and his Janey, who lived 500 years before. Are they doomed to repeat the tragic love afair of Ranulf and Janey? Or will they make their own happy ending?

Unfortunately, the book’s publishers seriously diminish the suspense by proclaiming ON THE COVER that Ms. Dennis “manages a happy ending as well.”

But you will still have a great time finding out how Bess and Rand get to that seemingly impossible happy ending.

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