Jamaica Inn.WTF is going on there? Anyway...
Mary Yellan mother just died and made her promise to find her aunt, her last living relative. Mary hasn't seen her Aunt Patience in ten years since she got married. She finds that Patience has moved to a desolate spot in Cornwall where her husband is the landlord of Jamaica Inn. Mary sets off excited to see her aunt after all these years but when she mentions Jamaica Inn to the locals, they look at her strangely. They behave a lot like the villagers do when Jonathan Harper says he's off to visit his friend Count Dracula. You know that can't be good.
Mary soon figures out why all the stink eye. Her new uncle Joss Merlyn is a brute who's associates are dregs of society. Her aunt is a nervous shell of her former self and clings to Mary. Mary knows she should run but feels it would be heartless to leave her aunt behind. But then Mary stumbles upon the secret of Jamaica Inn, it could get her arrested or worse- killed.
As always, Daphne du Maurier creates a story that ramps up the suspense until the very end. I did spot the bad guy right away though. He might as well have worn a sign that said Mr Obvious. This was written before Rebecca and it's not quite on par with that later work. However, there is some great writing and the story is definitely not boring. The idea of 'the wreckers' is horrific.
I wasn't always happy with the things Mary did. She might have ended the whole drama early on but of course then there would be no story. She was brave and fearless when she had to be and I always admire a heroine for that. I did like how she didn't deny her attraction to Jem but wasn't feather headed about it. Often other characters commented on her ability to 'think like a boy,' meaning she was rational and clear sighted. I guess women are supposed to be flighty and dumb?
So, Jamaica Inn is said to have a Wuthering Heights quality to it. I can't really see it except for it taking place on the moors and Joss Merlyn is Heathcliff-esque. He's described as "a great husk of a man, nearly seven feet high, with a creased black brow and a skin the colour of a gypsy. His thick dark hair fell over his eyes in a fringe and hung about his ears." That's an apt description of Heathcliff. I could totally see Heathcliff with a career as a wrecker when he went away to make his fortune too. He's brutal enough for the job.
While I enjoyed Jamaica Inn for the gothic atmosphere and storyline, I would suggest any reader new to du Maurier to read some of her other works first.
I still recommend it.