This book is set in the late 1920s in Britain, the era of the Bright Young Things who were rich and titled and carefree. Our heroine, Rachel Woodley, however is none of those things. At the start of the book, she is working as a governess to a trio of children in Paris and receives a telegram informing her that her mother is at death’s door. Due to the fact she rebuffed the advances of one of her co-workers, he delayed passing along the telegram for five days, making Rachel abandon her job to race home. She arrives too late, her mother has died and been buried, leaving nothing for Rachel to do but pack up the few belongings in the house. While she does this, she finds a gossip article and photo of a man who looks her long dead father – only this man is alive and is the Earl of Standish, how could this be?
In order to get some answers, Rachel turns to her mother’s cousin David at Oxford who tells her all of the sad details – her father never expected to inherit the title, and it was deemed best if it appeared he was dead to Rachel to save her from being hurt. Only now it hurts more than ever, realizing she was lied to and now she has nothing while her her father’s other daughter has a life of luxury. While she has some vague thoughts of confronting her father and demanding to be accepted, she isn’t sure how to go about that. Then she meets Simon Montfort, a former student of David’s, who has overheard the tale and offers to help her.
Simon is wealthy, runs with the fast crowd, and writes a column for a magazine. He knows Olivia, Rachel’s half-sister, and suggests that he could introduce Rachel to some of the people in the crowd, it would be a way to get close to her. To this end, he invents a new persona for her, Vera Merton, a cousin of his who has just returned from an extended stay in Paris. He puts her up at his mother’s flat (conveniently empty as his mother is in New York), and gives her a crash course on blending in. We don’t get a lot of background on Simon, and he’s portrayed as somewhat rakish even though his efforts to help Rachel seem sincere.
It’s not long before Vera is a new darling of the circle, and Ms Willig does an excellent job of portraying the fashions and the endless round of parties and frenzied gaiety of the time. There are some light hearted moments even as Rachel continues to plot revenge, but when she does meet Olivia (and her fiance), she realizes that maybe things aren’t so green on that side of the fence either. And when the inevitable meeting with her father happens, it isn’t what she dreamed of, and there wasn’t the fairy tale ending you might expect.
As for romance, there really isn’t any in this book until we’re rushed into it at the end. I would have liked a bit more to feel that what happens was more natural, even though I was satisfied at the way it turned out. Rachel was a strong character, and though I felt a little frustrated with her attitude at the start (it was all about her hurt feelings, and her loss, without taking into account anyone else), she was able to move past that in the end. It didn’t capture me as much as The English Wife, but it was still a solid enjoyable read.