From New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age, full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.
This book is a mixture of historical romance with an intriguing plot of family secrets and mystery that is very well done. It’s set at the end of the 1800’s, in the wealthy environs of New York society where rigid rules of appearance were adhered to. Bayard and Annabelle Van Duyvil are the glamorous couple that appear to have it all – after a whirlwind romance in England, they married and now have a beautiful home modeled after her ancestral estate and adorable twin toddlers. Then on the night of a grand ball to celebrate Twelfth Night, Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest and Annabelle is nowhere to be found. The fairy tale had come to a tragic end and all of the rumors about their relationship begin to bubble – did she have an affair with the architect and Bayard confronted her, only to have her kill him? Were Bayard and his cousin Anne lovers, driving Annabelle to the crime and then disappearing into the night? Either way, fingers are pointing at Annabelle as the killer.
Bayard’s sister, Janie, was the person to hear his dying word, which was ‘George’, and she’s convinced that Annabelle didn’t kill him. Janie is a rather timid young woman at the start of the book; her mother is stern and demanding, making sure that Janie is mainly seen but not heard. However, Janie soon takes things into her own hands, and enlists the aid of James Burke, a reporter for one of the newspapers, to help her find the truth. And the truth isn’t what any of them imagine it to be….
The book jumps back and forth between the time of the murder, and then in flashback to five years previous when Bay and Annabelle met in London. We get to see their relationship from the start, and learn that Annabelle may not be exactly who everyone thinks she is. Some parts of their early days seemed to drag a little, but it wasn’t long before I was completely hooked by what was going on. For his part, Bay has some secrets of his own that will ultimately be exposed as well and I should have guessed what it was but it still surprised me. Ms Willig does an excellent job of weaving the past and the present together, until the ending when we discover what really happened that fateful night. I liked Janie’s overall growth as a character, as she steps out from under her mother’s thumb and I also found myself liking cousin Anne by the end of the book.
I devoured this book in pretty short order, and if you enjoy a good mystery that is rich with family intrigue you might like it as well. I’ve read a lot of Ms Willig’s books, including the Pink Carnation spy series, and she does her homework as far as historical settings and details. There’s not a lot of steamy passion, but I don’t think it needed that; I was absorbed by everything else.