Published by St. Martin's Press on January 9, 2018
Purchase From: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or The Book Depository
From the New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous New York Gilded Age novel full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.
Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?
The Gilded Age. A wealthy, attractive couple from a respectable family. They appear to have it all – two beautiful children, social status, a beautiful home. Until Bayard Van Duyvil is found murdered at the couple’s Twelfth Night ball, his own jewelled dagger buried in his chest and his wife, Annabelle, is nowhere to be found. Cue the stranger from England, who claims Annabelle is an imposter as well as a murderess, and the newspapers go crazy. Everyone believes that Annabelle is the killer and that she has fled. Janie Van Duyvil, Bay’s spinster sister, believes that to be false, and goes against her overbearing mother to try and find out the truth, enlisting the help of a journalist to try and find the real killer.
Told in two timelines, past and present, The English Wife takes us on a ride that is part family drama, part murder mystery, and part gothic romance. While it starts a little slow and keeping track of all the characters can be daunting, there are enough twists and turns to keep you interested, not to mention one of the most unexpected resolutions I’ve ever come across.
I’ve never read Lauren Willig before, so I don’t know if The English Wife was her first foray into the genre or not. At times, it felt a little stilted, the writing a little odd. It was hard to keep characters straight, but that worked for me. Trying to figure out exactly who Annabelle was, thinking “OK, got it”, then “maybe not …” is something I actually enjoyed. The family secrets and intrigue were mind-boggling, yet not overwhelming.
I have to say of all the plot points, I enjoyed Janie’s character the most. Watching her evolve from the shy spinster, cuckolded by her mother and pitied by her scandalous cousin, to an independent woman capable of branching out and bucking social norms was a treat. It was second only to the great comeuppance of her mother (but that’s a spoiler, so SHHH!). Another fascinating thing was the turn-of-the-century American setting. Being non-American, it’s fascinating to me just how much those very English attitudes and societal norms were ingrained.
The post-revelation, everyone picking their life up chapter was satisfying and almost hinted at a follow-up. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for it, that’s for sure!