If there were a literary recipe for bestselling author Lauren Willig’s novel The English Wife, it would include blending equal parts historical fiction and British murder mystery, a dash of “Downton Abbey” and a pinch of Edith Wharton’s Gilded Age.
That’s not to say The English Wife is cliché or formulaic; on the contrary, readers will be alternately delighted and shocked by this page-turner that features a dual narrative tethered to the social caste systems that straddled the pond in the late 19th century.
One of the novel’s two heroines, Georgie, is a former English showgirl and the wife of the wealthy American Bayard Van Duyvil—a blueblood from a distinguished, albeit dysfunctional, New York family. This unlikely match is kindled in London, where Bayard rescues Georgie from a life of poverty and hardship and brings her to New York, much to the chagrin of his mother, the formidable matriarch Mrs. Van Duyvil.
The tale begins with what appears to be a double murder at a New York society gala, and then unfolds in flashbacks, moving from late 19th-century London’s mean streets, where Georgie works as an actress, to the storied banks of the Hudson, where the Van Duyvil’s gracious manse is a hub for the old Dutch Knickerbocker society, which includes the Astors and Vanderbilts.
When Bayard’s sister, Janie, encounters an ambitious New York journalist determined to crack the case of the so-called Knickerbocker society murders, their working relationship evolves into a wary friendship, with the heartbroken heiress and cynical reporter both determined to uncover the truth.
This elegantly written tale will keep readers guessing until the final chapter.