Reviewed by Donna Meredith
Erika Marks’s latest novel, The Last Treasure, is a delicious romance, well-timed to capitalize on the current Hamilton frenzy. Hamilton assassin Aaron Burr’s daughter Theodosia is one of those lost aboard the Patriot, a schooner which disappeared without a trace in 1813 off the Carolina coast during a storm.
The novel’s main character, Liv, has grown up studying all the history and legends surrounding the Patriot’s disappearance, tutored by her mother, who was obsessed with the shipwreck. Throughout Liv’s childhood, they charted clues on a map. After her mother’s accidental death, Liv continues the hunt for the Patriot, attending lectures on maritime salvage despite being an English major. At one of these college lectures, Liv meets Sam and Whit.
Sam becomes Liv’s lover first, yet from the beginning, attraction also heats up between her and Whit. The two men couldn’t be more different: Whit, reckless and passionate; Sam, steady and reserved.
Liv’s father complicates every move she makes. He has become totally dependent on her since her mother’s death. His dependence, which mushrooms from irrational fear of losing his daughter too, deepens as he ages and suffers from dementia. Parallels between Theodosia Burr’s close relationship to her Aaron Burr and Liv and her father’s unusually close relationship add a layer of interest to the story.
From the novel’s opening pages, we know Liv has chosen Whit. Yet suspense builds as we learn how this marriage came about and escalates even further as we see Liv might have reason to regret her choice. When the reliable Sam returns to help the couple with a salvage operation, will she choose him this time around? The final treasure, of course, will not be coins dragged up from the ocean floor, but the realization of true love.
The story slips back and forth in time, slowly unfolding both past and present. Most present events occur near Topsail Island, North Carolina, as Liv, Whit, and Sam prepare for a salvage mission and track down clues concerning the disappearance of Theodosia Burr. Occasional chapters are offered in Whit’s and Sam’s points of view, and in one section we are treated to entries from Theodosia’s journal.
While this tale will charm readers of romance novels, it will also appeal to those interested in the history of salvage operations. For the most part, the prose is silky smooth, though occasionally similes feel a touch overdone.
The Last Treasure is Marks’s fifth novel, following It Comes in Waves, The Guest House, The Mermaid Collector, and Little Gale Gumbo.