Jamaica Inn is owned by Joss Merlyn, Mary's uncle by marriage. He's a blustering, violent man who has terrified Mary's aunt Patience into a shadow of her former self. Joss warns Mary not to ask questions and tells her to curb her curiosity. Of course, our stubborn heroine does nothing of the sort because the inn is almost deserted most of the time. The rooms aren't made up for visitors. One room is locked and barred entirely. The inn only sees business on weekends and only from the roughest men in the country. Late one night, Mary hears Joss and a few of his friends outside the inn. They've got wagons that they hurriedly unload, load with some other cargo, and scatter. Later, Mary overhears Joss and his gang talking about a new plan. When one member objects, he is murdered. Mary doesn't witness the murder itself, but she find the hanging rope before Joss can hide it.
|The actual Jamaica Inn, built around 1750.|
While all of this is going on, Mary is attracted by Joss's younger brother, Jem. Their first meeting is not auspicious. If I had been Mary, I would have punched Jem in the nose. He's irritating and makes bad choices, but there's something about him that strikes sparks with Mary. She also meets the vicar of Altarnun, a nearby village. Frances Davey is an albino and, while he seems like an ally, there's something about his coldness that puts Mary off.
You'll never get a chance to catch your breath while reading Jamaica Inn. The action just steams past. Just as Mary learns that Joss is a smuggler, she learns that he's also a wrecker. The local squire gets involved. There's news that the British military will get involved. The walls are closing in around Joss. And then there's the mysterious mastermind. The unusual ending is the perfect note to cap it all off.