It’s usual to find a stack of several books I am currently reading near my favorite chair. One will be for inspiration, another for information, and a third will be a novel that takes me on an adventure. I am on the lookout for new releases and have a list of favorite novelists I follow. One of these is Lauren Willig.
The English Wife by Willig will keep you turning pages as you travel from England to New York with Georgie whose life began in a lovely Tudor house in London with a twin brother and half-sister. Her future is altered through a series of tragedies leaving her without means as the offspring of her father and his mistress. Despite the closeness of Georgie and her half-sister, Annabelle, there is a male cousin who is determined to inherit the estate and take over.
Georgie picks up jobs wherever she can find them and lands in a small establishment called the Ali Baba where she is performing in the evisceration of a musical version of Twelfth Night. It is here that her friend, Kitty, invites her out for the evening with two gentlemen. One of these, Bayard Van Duyvil, from the American Knickerbocker family, part of the posh wealth of New York, is to be Georgie’s escort for the evening.
Unlike Kitty, Georgie is on guard about the evening and this rich American and determined that only dinner is expected. Much to her surprise, when Kitty and her gentleman friend go off after dinner, Georgie’s escort honors her request to pay her fare to go home. This begins a series of dates that result in Bayard being more and more attracted to Georgie even though she clearly is from the “other side of the tracks” from his own.
Dinner by dinner Bayard and Georgie get to know each other and soon Bayard must return to New York but announces he doesn’t think he can do life without Georgie. The offer to join him is tempting but Georgie knows the cousin she has been hiding from at the Ali Baba will hunt her down wherever she goes to be sure the estate of her late father falls into his hands. This scheming cousin has never understood what happened to her half-sister who disappeared in what appeared to be a drowning accident. Her body was never found to confirm her death and he suspects Georgie knows more about it when she disappears into the night from her palatial home in London where she is now treated as the illegitimate child she had always been.
No one has ever treated Georgie with such respect as Bayard and her thoughts of what life could be like in New York replay day after day. When Bayard presses her to leave London with him, she confesses the story she has kept hidden. Bayard gallantly insists he can keep her safe from all harm if she will marry him and travel to New York. The one option Georgie thinks might work is for her to take on the identity of her half-sister, Annabelle, a true heir to her father’s estate.
Together Bayard and Georgie decide to try this plan and start by traveling to Paris together where they marry as Annabelle and Bayard, and he shares with his widowed mother he had found the love of his life in London, and they will return to his home soon. It seems evident as his mother hears the news that this cannot be a woman of the status she wants her son to marry. But with the deed done she marshals her society role to welcome the couple home with determination to control this new wife as she has controlled Bayard his entire life.
Willig weaves in new characters once the couple arrives in New York and the tale takes on twists and turns the reader doesn’t expect. Key among them is Bayard’s sister, Janie, whom you meet in the opening chapter, and his cousin, Anne. Their roles become more significant as Georgie (now Annabelle) and Bayard play out the ruse they hope will succeed as their love for each other deepens.
Scene by scene as secrets are woven together the reader cannot be sure what will happen next. Most surprising of all the twists is Janie’s determination to find out the truth of what happens on the night of a grand ball to show off Bayard and Georgie’s (Annabelle’s) new home. Something doesn’t make sense about the tragedy that unfolds. Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest and Georgie’s (Annabelle’s) shoe is found on the bank of the stream where she appears to have drowned despite no body being found.
The mystery and the unmasking of secrets one by one will leave the reader wondering to the very end of the book what the truth is, who committed the murder, what happened to Georgie (Annabelle), and what happened to the true Annabelle in London years ago as her death scene appears to have been replayed.
Lauren Willig keeps the reader engaged with this complex tale and The English Wife will not disappoint you as she finally reveals the truth.