From New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age, full of family secrets, affairs, and murder.
Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor house in England, they had a fairytale 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 named 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 try 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?
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
LAUREN WILLIG is also the author of the New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series and a RITA Award-winner for Best Regency Historical for The Mischief of the Mistletoe. A graduate of Yale University, she has a graduate degree in English history from Harvard and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.
Hometown:New York, New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:March 28, 1977
Place of Birth:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Education:B.A., Yale University, 1999; M.A., Harvard University, 2001
Read an Excerpt
New York, 1899
KNICKERBOCKER MURDERS WIFE AND KILLS HIMSELF! MURDER AND SUICIDE ON THE HUDSON!
It was impossible to ignore the headlines; they screamed out in bold black type from either side of the street, in the hands of newspapermen waving the latest editions.
"Miss Van Duyvil! Miss Van Duyvil! Did you see him? Did you see the body?"
"Miss Van Duyvil! Did you know he was going to kill her?"
Police had created cordons on either side of the front steps, keeping the press and sensation seekers at a distance. But they couldn't contain the sound of them, the babble and rumble of the crowd, pushing and clawing for a better view, shouting out questions and opinions. The family had managed to evade the reporters at Grace Church, but the house was another matter. A jostling crowd had been waiting for them when they returned from the funeral — reporters and curiosity seekers, masses of them, mobs of them — wanting to get a look at the sensation of the hour, a proud old family brought low.
It had been only a week since they had found Bay, but since then, the story had whirled about them like a snowstorm, growing in force with every hour. All of the old nonsense had been dragged up: the whispers of Annabelle's affairs, Bay's jealousy, the adultery going on right beneath the marital roof.
Lies, all of it, but so much more compelling than truth.
And what was the truth?
Janie had no more idea than they. She knew only that Bay could never have done what the papers claimed.
"Miss Van Duyvil! Miss Van Duyvil! Is it true that he bashed her head in?"
Janie buried her chin in her fur collar and kept moving. The Cold Spring constable hadn't believed her, not at first, when she said she'd seen a body in the water. He'd dismissed it as fancy. At least until they found that blue silk slipper on the bank.
They hadn't found Annabelle's body — not yet. The ice was too thick, the water too deep. It might never be recovered.
It. It, that had once been a she.
Janie could feel the beginnings of a headache pinching her temples. The noise, the clamor, it was all the stuff of nightmares; the past week was nothing but a bad dream. The funeral service, the flower-laden casket, the solemn pallbearers in their tall hats, the white-robed choristers, none of it had been real. Bay and Annabelle were at Illyria, sitting by the fire, the twins curled between them as Annabelle sang a lullaby, soft and low.
She tried to picture it, but all she could see was Bay, sprawled on the floor of the folly, his lips forming one last word as Annabelle's body drifted beneath the ice, like something out of a painting by Mr. Millais.
Janie didn't know what forces her mother had brought to bear to persuade the Putnam County coroner to release Bay's body. Officially, her mother was in deep mourning, seeing no one, speaking to no one, delegating all the official offices of death to the family lawyer. But a series of notes on black-bordered stationery had made their way from Mrs. Van Duyvil's desk to state senators and judges. And the coroner, who had initially hemmed and hawed and dithered, had discovered in himself unexpected depths of sensibility, issuing an interim certificate of death and postponing the inquest "until such time as further information might be acquired."
"Miss Van Duyvil! Did you see it? Did you see him stab her?"
Anne addressed the crowd over her fur-trimmed shoulder, saying, in a carrying voice, "Surely, there must be a brawl at a beer hall somewhere in the city. Go find it. Or, if not, I'm certain you'll have no trouble starting one."
The laughter from the crowd stung the journalist into retaliation. He jostled forward, pushing his way free from the crowd. "Mrs. Newland! Where's your husband?"
Anne went still, like a hunted animal, every sense on alert.
"Leave it," Janie whispered. "Just go inside."
But Anne didn't go. She turned, slowly and deliberately, letting the journalists and gawkers look their fill. A cousin wasn't required to shroud herself in black, so Anne had adopted half mourning, a bold purple that suited her rose and gold coloring. The evening editions would be full of every detail of her dress, the cut and color provocatively Parisian against the frost-bleached New York street. The sketch artists were already at work, blowing on cold fingers to warm them.
Anne looked the journalist up and down, her very pose a provocation. In a bored drawl, she said, "Why don't you ask him?"
Janie tugged at her hand, but Anne didn't need tugging. She turned on her heel, sweeping into the house with one magnificent flounce of her skirt, leaving Janie to scurry along behind.
In the parlor, the drapes were drawn and the lamps were lit; night in the midst of day. Janie shivered in her furs. They weren't to have returned until Monday, and the house still had the chill of emptiness about it. Or maybe it was a different sort of hollowness entirely.
Janie's mother looked up from the mirror by the side of the window, an innovation of their Dutch ancestors, glass cleverly angled so that one could spy on the street while seeming to look away.
"You shouldn't perform for them, Anne. It only encourages them." Janie's mother looked narrow and pinched; she seemed, in the lamplight, like a portrait of herself, flat and grim. She turned away from the window, letting her eyes rest full on her niece. "But then we do know how much you love theater."
The color rose in Anne's cheeks. Or maybe it was just the snap of the cold — cold and scandal.
Janie turned quickly away, before they could turn their ire on her. Was this how other people were, afraid to admit grief, causing pain rather than be comforted? Or was it only the Van Duyvil household?
Bay hadn't been like that. Bay would have defused the situation with a joke for Anne, a hand on his mother's arm.
But Bay was gone.
Anne sank into a chair, a sinuous movement, even in her stays. "You have to give the vultures something. If they're talking about Teddy, they might not —" With a convulsive gesture, Anne's fingers closed around the slim gold case hanging from a chain at her waist. "Does anyone else need a cigarette? Janie?"
Janie ducked her head, an instinctive gesture.
"Not in my house," said Mrs. Van Duyvil coldly.
"Even Ruth Mills smokes them these days, Aunt Alva. And she's a Livingston." Anne's voice was its usual drawl, but her hands gave her away, shaking so badly she could hardly work the clasp on her cigarette case. "Isn't that so, cousin dear?"
"So I've heard," said Janie cautiously. She wouldn't know. She'd never been invited to any of Ruth Mills's house parties at Staatsburg. Janie went where her mother went, to select gatherings of the elect, parties that wouldn't be sullied by the new people and their conspicuous expenditure.
And, of course, to Illyria. A silly name for a house, her mother had sniffed, but it was what Annabelle and Bay had chosen to call it.
Bay. The lamplight dazzled Janie's eyes, refracting into the light of a thousand icicles. The snow had thickened after they found him, crusting his body with diamonds, turning him into a creature out of fancy, a sleeping prince waiting to be woken.
"Janie!" Her mother's voice was sharp.
"I'm sorry. I was —"
"Not attending. You never do. Go see what's keeping the girl. You'd think she was harvesting the tea herself."
Anne rose from her chair with something less than her usual grace. The cigarette was still clutched, unlit, between her fingers. Even she didn't quite have the gall to light it in the face of direct objection. "I'll go."
"No. It's all right." The parlor felt like the inside of a coffin, velvet lined. Janie could feel herself smothering in it. "I won't be a moment."
She escaped before Anne could object. If there was one skill Janie had learned over the years, it was the art of absenting herself. One could be absent in the midst of a crowded drawing room if one really tried.
If the parlor was a coffin, the hall felt like a tomb, the marble floor cold and bleak, the frieze of urns that skirted the ceiling disappearing into the gloom. Janie escaped gratefully to the nether regions of the house, down the half stair that led to the kitchen. She could feel the warmth even before she entered; warmth and coal smoke and the strong smells of food in various stages of preparation.
"Is something burning?" asked Janie.
"The cakes —" Mrs. O'Malley started up from the table, grabbing for a towel and catching up a newssheet instead. She stared at it as though not sure how it had got there. "I was just —"
"Yes, I can see that."
DOUBLE MURDER ON THE HUDSON! shouted the headline.
Somewhere, they'd found pictures of Annabelle and Bay. Neither looked at all like themselves. Annabelle's was an artist's sketch, her hair piled high atop her head in a style she didn't favor, her chin pushed into an unnatural position by the strands of a pearl choker Janie couldn't recall her ever wearing. And then there was Bay. Janie recognized the picture, taken on the occasion of his graduation from the Harvard Law School six years before, his hair slicked down at the sides, high collar stiff around his throat. The same picture that sat in a silver frame on a table in the parlor.
Someone in the house must have provided the picture. Mrs. O'Malley? Or Katie, the downstairs maid? Katie was standing by the scullery, holding herself as though her very stillness would keep her from notice.
Janie nodded at the newssheet. "You'd best not let Mrs. Van Duyvil see you with that."
Mrs. O'Malley clutched the paper close to her thin chest. "Yes, miss. No, miss."
Janie had always wished she could be like a girl in a story, the sort of girl who was beloved by peers and servants alike. But she had never had the gift of commanding allegiance, either by love or by fear. The servants, she knew, took their cue from her mother. Janie was an extraneous female, but a Van Duyvil still, to be treated with nominal respect to her face and derision behind her back.
Janie held out a hand. "May I?"
Mrs. O'Malley surrendered the newssheet. The print was grainy, smeared by the touch of eager fingers. And this was only one of many newspapers being hawked on street corners. Not since the discovery of a dismembered body in the East River two summers ago had there been such a sensation.
Murder. Janie still couldn't make her mind close around the word. Murder was something that happened in the tenements of Hell's Kitchen, in the dark segments of the city through which a carriage passed with closed curtains. Not in her family. Not in Illyria.
"I'll dispose of this," said Janie, and was aware of just how much she sounded like her mother. A movement by the door caught her eye. A man, behind Katie, in the narrow passage between the scullery and the street. Sharply, she said, "And who might this be?"
Katie cast an agitated glance at Mrs. O'Malley. "It's ... my cousin. Jimmy."
The man unfolded himself from the wall, stepping into the light, the gas lamp casting a reddish glow against his black hair, setting shadows beneath his cheekbones.
He held his cap in one hand; the other hand he extended to Janie. "My condolences for your loss, Miss Van Duyvil."
Janie kept her own hands pressed close to her sides. "This is not a time to be receiving callers — even cousins."
If he was one. The ink on his fingers said otherwise.
The byline on the article in Janie's hands read James. James Burke.
James Burke. The name sounded oddly familiar, as though she had heard it before. On the pages of a newssheet? The family didn't read those sorts of papers, but it was hard to ignore them entirely, plastered as they were across the city.
Janie pressed her eyes shut, seeing the glare of the gaslight against the inside of her lids. "It would be a great deal less painful if people would respect that loss."
The interloper met her eyes, unabashed. "Surely, truth should be a consolation to the family, Miss Van Duyvil."
"Do you call this truth ... Mr. Burke?"
He didn't deny the charge. Instead, he inclined his head in something that was almost, but not quite, a bow. "Truth comes in all forms, Miss Van Duyvil."
On his tongue, the use of her name sounded impossibly intimate. "But seldom in The News of the World. I take it that you are the person responsible for perpetrating this ... nonsense?"
The man had the gall to widen his eyes in innocence. "We prefer to call it investigative reporting, Miss Van Duyvil."
"I call it scandal-mongering, pure and simple." Janie was too angry to be shy; all she could think of was Viola and Sebastian in their nightclothes, crying for their mother. They were too young to understand what was being said. But what of when they were older? It was easier to fling mud than to scour a reputation clean. "Making capital out of the suffering of innocent souls."
Mr. Burke leaned one hand familiarly against the back of a chair. "And isn't that the same way most of your friends on Fifth Avenue made their fortunes?"
"That's not —" That was what he wanted, to keep her talking. She'd find her own words flung back at her in the press, twisted and distorted. Stiffly, Janie said, "This is a house of mourning. I would urge you and your colleagues to remember that." To Katie, she added, "Mrs. Van Duyvil is waiting for her tea."
Katie bobbed a curtsy. "Yes, ma'am."
Janie kept her attention fixed on Katie, her voice prim. "I trust you will, in the future, restrict your family reunions to your half day. They have no place in this kitchen."
She sounded like her mother. No. Worse. She sounded like a sour spinster, tyrannizing the staff to mask her own powerlessness.
Mr. Burke stepped forward, a knight errant in a shabby gray suit. "It's not Katie's fault."
"In which case, it must be yours." Janie turned her displeasure where it belonged. "This discussion is over, Mr. Burke. You are disrupting the household and keeping Katie from her duties."
"And we mustn't have that." Mr. Burke's eyes met hers, the gray-green of moss over stone. "Good day, Miss Van Duyvil."
"Good-bye, Mr. Burke."
His only reply was a tilt of his cap as the door closed behind him.
A hint of French perfume warred with the scent of burning crumpets. "Who was that?"
Janie turned hastily, blinking at Anne in the kitchen door. "No one. One of Katie's cousins."
Anne shrugged, already losing interest. She looked out of place in the domestic confines of the kitchen, her taffeta gown too rich, her blond hair too bright for workaday use. "Aunt Alva wants her tea sent to her rooms. Sometime this century."
Mrs. O'Malley sprang into action, assembling a tray with more force than grace.
"You're to go to her." Anne waved one long, white hand at Janie. "When you're done with your ... reading."
Janie had forgotten the paper. Her fingers tightened around the page as she hurried after Anne, up the stairs. "I was simply disposing of it."
"Whatever you like." Anne's tone was derisory, but Janie didn't miss the glance she darted at the paper.
Janie would have laughed if it hadn't been so miserable, all of it. To be reduced to reading the scandal sheets for word of one's own family.
Somewhere along the sides of the frozen river, the search went on for Annabelle's body. Or so they presumed. Their sensibilities, it seemed, were too delicate to be imposed upon by the police. Whatever they knew of their own tragedy came at third hand. They were starved for news, all of them, as isolated as Robinson Crusoe on his island.
Anne, with all her tricks and her charm; Janie's mother, with her lineage and her money. All of their powers were reduced to nothing when it came to the workings of the masculine world of the law.
Janie looked anxiously at her cousin. "What happens next?"
Anne deliberately misunderstood her. "Supper, I should think."
Janie pressed her eyes shut, schooling herself to patience. Grieving came upon people in different ways, and if it made Anne even more prickly than usual ... well, there could be no doubt that she was grieving, or that she had the right to grieve. If there had been one person in the world who Anne truly loved, it was Bay.
There were times Janie had wondered if there might be something more between her brother and her cousin, if the rumors of Annabelle's affair with the architect were just a screen for —
No. Janie bit down hard on her lower lip. Now she was being as bad as the scandal-mongers howling at the gate. Bay had loved Annabelle. If Janie was sure of anything, she was sure of that. Not the fevered love the papers meant to convey, something harsh and jealous, but a comfort with their own company, the intimacy of a hand on a shoulder in passing, a message conveyed with a look.
Words might lie, but not that.
Janie paused at the foot of the stairs, stopping Anne with a fleeting touch to her arm, the most contact they had had in weeks. "What they're saying — Bay would never have done that. He would never have hurt Annabelle. Not Bay."
"Because you knew him so well."
Anne had always known just where to slide the knife. Janie forced herself to honesty, even if honesty felt raw and painful. "I wish I had."
Excerpted from "The English Wife"
Copyright © 2017 Lauren Willig.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The first half of this novel was very "girly " and soap opera like . I was almost not going to continue reading . Then the wow factor kicked in! Can't quite give the book 5 stars, but it certainly is a worthwhile read.
A story set in the luxe time of the Gilded age: the story is set in a mansion on the banks of the Hudson River, Illyria. Bayard is the son of an old, established Knickerbocker family, his wife Annabelle is English, having grown up in an old Tudor home. Together they are a couple deeply in love with young twins and a place guaranteed in society. A Twelfth Night ball ends with Bayard dead with a knife in his chest, his wife missing. Murder? Suicide? Both? Told in two perspectives: Annabelle in flashbacks and Bayard’s sister Jane in the present time of 1899, clues, twists, motives and more are unearthed as Jane pairs up with a reporter to uncover the murderer and bring some closure. Back and forth the story moves, twists and turns galore. Every character in this story has secrets: some are uncovered quickly, others come with more surprise: twists are surprising with the occasional reveal being predictable if well-placed. Much like my introduction to Willig’s writing, the story had moments of brightness and beauty, but there was something missing for me. Not utterly captivating due to the slow pacing and a tendency to have multiple elements introduced that don’t ever really connect to the story or help it move forward, the story is compelling in that ‘travel to a different time and see how many secrets you can guess before the reveal” sort of way. I will say, however, that the read was an easy one if I ignored the overuse of ‘belied’ and didn’t overthink the dialogue when it moved to trite and heavy-handed: this is a story that almost feels like an escapist’s dream of the time and the mysteries that surround it. Escapism is the word for this title – easy to follow along and engaging well enough to overcome some planning and dialogue difficulties. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Great characters and storyline. Where is the sequel?
I was super hooked into this book the whole way through!!!
A Gothic romance with farfetched and highly improbable elements, but irresistible fun. I loved it!
Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil seem to lead a charmed life in the Gilded Age. They met in London and fell in love, returning to a privileged life on the banks of the Hudson River where his socially elite family holds sway. They seem to have a fairytale existence – her Tudor English home recreated in New York, wealth, twin three-year-olds they adore and a loving marriage. But is all as it seems? There are rumors Annabelle is having an affair with the architect who designed their home, Illyria. When Bayard is found stabbed and dying during a party at their home and Annabelle disappears, presumed drowned in the Hudson, the press jumps on the story. Bayard’s sister Janie works with a reporter to discover the truth, no matter what it might be. Did Annabelle kill Bayard and run away? Did he push her into the river as she was stabbing him? Why did he whisper “George” as he died? As Janie investigates, more and more questions arise about Annabelle and Bayard and what their lives truly were. There are twists, turns, alliances and heartbreak as the story of Annabelle and Bayard unfolds.
Missing Pieces! This is a fast moving novel about a wealthy young couple living during The Gilded Age in New York City. They have a family name to uphold and they get off to a bad start by living double lives. In the beginning of The English Wife, Bey the husband, is found with a dagger In his heart and his wife is missing. Scandals ensue and the newspapers have a field day as fingers point in many directions as the story is told through flashbacks. The wife is from England and she is really an actress named Georgiana, but she takes on the identity of a pampered relative named Annabelle. Her husband, Bey is from a well-established Newport family and falls for her while visiting England. He doesn't investigate her life too deeply because he has his own share of shame and secrets and could benefit from the union. Yet, after it all comes crashing down and the reader's mind continually shifts from one character to another as one wonders, 'Who dun it and why? This sizable book is a page-turner with a shocking outcome much like life itself. At the end of the saga, the reader still doesn't know what happened to Annabelle and perhaps that is like real life too!
I'm ridiculously disappointed in myself for not discovering this author sooner. The story is a bit bittersweet (which is not really my usual speed) but the chemistry between the characters is so witty and fun to follow that I was hooked despite the fact that we already know from chapter one that Bay's life will be tragically cut short just 5 years after meeting his wife. There were fantastic plot twists that I did not come seeing but when re-reviewing the previous scenes made perfect sense. Utterly brilliant. I was a bit disappointed by parts of the ending for a number of reasons but since I don't want to spoil it for the rest of you you'll just have to read and make your own determinations on if you like the ending or not. Overall a significantly above average read. I will definitely be purchasing other works by this author in the near future.
3 1/2 stars, I enjoyed this novel immensely! Lauren Willig's latest novel, The English Wife, is an engrossing Victorian era murder mystery with plenty of intrigue and is a perfect companion for a weekend trip or quiet evening. Quickly paced and peppered with a couple of well placed red herrings - it's a good choice for those who enjoy the historical fiction genre with a little bit of romance, and mystery. The plot of the book focuses on a murder mystery - when Janie Van Duyvel's brother and his wife are found dead on the grounds of their freshly built home on the Hudson River. At first glance the scene appears to have been set up as a murder/suicide, but as Janie delves deeper into what she knows about her brother and his wife, she finds herself questioning what she doesn't know. Secretly, she begins searching for the truth about the events of the evening, teaming up with a newspaper man with questionable morals and pretty eyes. Willig's employment of a dual narrative keeps things interesting. I found this mechanism to be an effective way to bring the reader into the mystery solving piece of the story, but also allowed the reader to become familiar with the story of the ill-fated Van Duyvel couple. To be honest, I was much more invested in the doomed couple's story than Janie's - overall their chapters seemed to be more intriguing, their characters and story more fleshed out. Points to Ms. Willig for knowing exactly where to throw the reader off the scent - a couple of perfectly timed red herrings deterred me from being sure of what happened - and I was surprised by the outcome! Definitely a fun read that I would recommend to fans who enjoy lighter historical fiction.
"The English Wife" is a like a finely woven piece of antique lace—delicate and intricate at the same time. Lauren Willig spins an intriguing mystery steeped in secrets and the morés of another time. The beautiful writing and attention to detail capture the reader's attention from the first page. Willig is an author of tremendous skill and imagination.
Starts a little slow, but once it gets going, is quite a ride!
I found the story very intriguing BUT the writing did not ... flow. I really had to push myself to keep reading because the storyline itself was interesting. The characters were, too. But, again, for some reason that I cannot quite explain, it was hard to turn those pages. I was glad I did because I did want to learn the answers to the mysteries presented.
I found the story very intriguing BUT the writing did not ... flow. I really had to push myself to keep reading because the storyline itself was interesting. The characters were, too. But, again, for some reason that I cannot quite explain, it was hard to turn those pages. I was glad I did because I did want to learn the answers to the mysteries presented.
Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review. In case you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to read the whole review (you know I can go on and on), I love this novel. I recommend it to anybody who enjoys historical fiction with a mystery at its heart, especially if you enjoy gothic novels. If you love Rebecca and Jane Eyre, I would advise you to check it out. And, for the insights it offers on the society of the time (both sides of the Atlantic), I think fans of Jane Austen who are interested in novels beyond the Regency period will also enjoy it. This historical novel, set at the end of the XIX century, starts with a murder and the mystery surrounding it. On the day when Annabelle and Bay, a couple of the best of New York society (Annabelle, the aristocratic English wife of the heir of the Van Duyvil dinasty) have organised a ball to celebrate the completion of their new mansion, he is found dead with a knife (a dagger from his costume) in his chest, and his wife is presumed drowned under the icy waters of the river. Janie, Bay’s sister, alarmed at the different versions of the story that circulate (either her brother killed his adulterous wife and then committed suicide, or his wife killed him intending to run away with her lover, although her brother is also accused of adultery with their cousin Anne…) and how they will affect her little niece and nephew, decides to try to find the truth. She chooses an unlikely ally (more unlikely than she realises at the time), a reporter (her mother values privacy, appearances, and reputation above all, and she appears to be the perfect obedient daughter), and the novel tells the story of their investigation, that we get to follow chronologically from the moment the body is discovered, in January 1899, for several weeks. We also get to read about events that took place several years earlier (from 1894 onward), when Annabelle (also known as Georgie) first met Bay, in London. She was working as an actress and they become friends. These two strands of the story, told in the third person, but each one from the point of view of one of the main characters, Janie and Georgie, run in parallel until towards the very end, and that offers us different perspectives and insight while at the same time helping keep the mystery going. The more we know about the ins and outs of the characters, their relationships, their families, and their secrets (and there are many. Other than Janie, who only starts keeping secrets after her brother’s death, all the rest of the characters carry heavy loads, sometimes theirs, sometimes those of others), the more we feel invested in the story, and the more suspects and red herrings that keep appearing. I have read some reviewers that complained about the story not being a mystery or a thriller. Well, a thriller it is not, for sure (although I found the reading experience thrilling for other reasons). It has some of the elements of a classic mystery of the era, with the added beauty of the detailed setting, the appreciation of the subtle social nuances of the time, the strong portrayal of the characters, and the beautiful language. You might guess who the guilty party is (I must confess I kept wavering between several possible explanations), and also some of the other secrets (some are more evident than others), but I thought it worked well, although not, perhaps, for a reader who is looking, exclusively, for
Lauren Willig has written an historical fiction/Gothic murder mystery set in the Gilded Age. I have read all of Ms. Willig's books, and this is quite the departure. The biggest change is the author's voice. Her characters are usually so witty, with the dialogue very sharp. These characters are depressing even on their good days. The chapters go back and forth between past and present, the pacing didn't flow, and right from the start I knew that one of the main protagonists (Bay) was murdered. Therefore, as I started to read the book, and the author wanted me to care about the relationship between Bay and Georgie in London, and then Bay and Annabelle and his family in New York, I just couldn't. Bay is stabbed dead at a very young age. His wife is missing. The police think it's a murder suicide, but that's physically impossible, so it's up to the sister, Janie to track down the killer. There is no happy ending for this couple that Ms. Willig spent 2/3rds of the book getting me invested. Is it my fault? Maybe. Did I not realize this was a murder mystery where the MAIN PERSON DIES? No I did not. So granted, I don't mind a little mystery, but don't mess with my main characters. On a side note, I LOVE all the rest of Lauren Willig's writing. In fact I own all of her books. I look forward to her next book, and hope it's a little more uplifting.
The English Wife Lauren Willig Willig’s The English Wife takes readers back to the Gilded Age and into the life of one of New York’s prominent families unceremoniously dropping them right into the middle of a complicated murder mystery. Told in multiple timelines and with Agatha Christie’s ghost whispering in her ear this master storyteller starts piling up suspects, while putting the pieces together revealing a family of wealth, stature, scandal and secrets. With a period perfect dialogue that will have readers googling unfamiliar terms and a vividly fluent narrative that keeps the pages turning the characters play each of their roles flawlessly dangling carrots until the final OMG ending. For fans of women’s fiction, literary historical fiction and murder mysteries this is the perfect choice to read by the fire on cold winter days. NARRATION: 14 hrs and 52 mins With a smooth Mezzo and immaculate intonations Barrie Kreinik’s narration is impeccable, perfectly portraying each and every character and adding special emotional touches where they’re really needed. Her rendition of the matriarch Mrs. Van Duyvil, the daughter Janie and the children were my personal favorites in her stable of brilliantly played parts. SUMMARY: On the night of January 5th, 1899 during the Twelfth Night Ball at their country home called Illyria in Cold Spring NY on the Hudson river socialite Bayard Van Duyvil is found stabbed by the garden folly and his wife Annabelle goes missing presumed drowned in the river. There have been reports about scandalous infidelities and now the rumor mill is really hopping with suppositions of murder suicide because Bay could no longer deal with his wife’s indiscretions. Bay’s sister Janie knows that Bay could never have killed his wife and without her overbearing aristocratic mother’s knowledge seeks out a reporter to help learn what really happened telling him she’s willing to brave whatever the truth reveals good or bad. But no one is prepared for the truth.
I’ve read a number of Lauren Willig’s earlier books and enjoyed them. When I read “The English Wife”, I was happily surprised at how much the author has grown in her ability to weave a multi-level story and keep my interest riveted throughout the book. In this book, the story switches back and forth between events in the past and those in the present time of the story (1899.) In the past storyline, Georgie Evans, a somewhat mediocre actress at a rundown theatre in London, becomes the object of attention of Bayard Van Duyvil, an American who is touring Europe. While she is not willing to do more than see the sights and talk with Bay, they develop a deep relationship. From the confidences she has placed with Bay, he guesses her past. In the present story line, Bay is found dead with a knife in his chest. His sister, Janie, does not like the conclusions the press jumps to and looks for a way to find the truth. A journalist assists her in this endeavor though they both know she may not like the truth once they find it. The movement from present to past is down well with the individuals involved in both timelines behaving consistently. There are red herrings and clues left for the reader to find. I guessed the whodunnit shortly before the author provides the answer in the story. I will certainly be looking for more books by this author in the future. I liked her earlier works and am really impressed by her current work. I was provided a digital advance reader copy of this book by the publisher via Netgalley.
High intrigue with a stunning climax Something terrible happens on the night of Annabelle and Bayard (Bay) Van Duyvil’s Twelfth Night ball celebrating the completion of their new family home in Cold Spring, New York. Bay is found dead with a knife in his chest and Annabelle is missing, feared drowned. Janie, Bay’s sister finds herself trusting and teaming up with a reporter to seek the truth about what happened and why. At first I thought this story moved a bit slowly, almost plodding along as it shifted immediately from the night of the ball to five years earlier when Bay and Annabelle first met in London. Without context, it was a little confusing. However, I trusted the author knew what she was doing and she did. It’s a slow build to developing these characters and that was brilliant because near halfway, that intimate knowledge of these two becomes vital to feeling their story, connecting with their emotions when so much more is revealed. From that point forward, I literally could not put this book down, finishing it in one day. There are hosts of surprises, twists and subterfuge embedded in an historically authentic prose and background. The matriarch of the Van Duyvil family sets the tone from which everyone revolves, maddenly so. The intrigue is almost palpable through the stunning conclusion. It’s my first experience with this author and now I’ll read the other books of hers that are languishing on my shelf. This was not an easy read but well worth the journey. Loved it. (I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review)
Janie Van Duyvil, age 26, is unmarried and beaten down by her mother. Janie’s cousin, Anne, lives with them but she isn’t intimidated by Mrs. Van Duyvil. Janie’s brother, Bay, had been married to Annabelle, an English woman. In America where they lived in a fine home on the Hudson, Annabelle was thought to be arrogant. People loved to gossip about her. When Bay and Annabelle threw a lavish party, Bay was stabbed to death and it was thought that Annabelle drowned in the Hudson. However, her body was not recovered. The scandal that followed drew a lot of press. They left behind two boys who now live with Mrs. Van Duyvil. Who was Annabelle? She was such a private person. Since her body was not found, it is not known if she is really dead or not. This was such a difficult story to try to follow. It jumped all around from place to place and time to time with all kinds of characters thrown in. I became so confused and really don’t know what it was that I read. I realize the the author is very celebrated for her work, but for me, this book is a total disappointment. Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The English Wife by Lauren Willig is a beautifully orchestrated cacophony of love stories written in two parts: one from the recent past and the other written from the conclusion of the first but told together, jumping from one to the other. The first story is of Bay and Georgie: Bay a Knickerbockers' prince, and Georgie a chorus girl from London, who are soul mates. The second is between Janie and Burke; Janie is Bay's sister and Burke is the newspaper reporter who comes to her aid, several times. Willig has been on my to-read list for a long time but this was the first opportunity (provided by NetGalley). It is a romance and a mystery, cleverly woven together so genres disappear beneath the joy of reading a well-crafted story. The characters are complex and driven, as well as misunderstood. The unveiling of each fault brings with it grief and explanation and leads us to the inescapable conclusion, which is a happy renaissance for each of the remaining characters. This is a wonderful book; well researched and well planned. The message, things aren't always as they seem, is always timely and done so dramatically that it is difficult to imagine another ending. I highly recommend this book and plan to start a full-scale assault on Lauren Willig's other books sooner rather than later.
This story kept me hooked and guessing until the end! Told in a dual timeline format, this story alternates between Janie Van Duyvil and her quest to find out what really happened to her brother and his wife and the story of Bayard Van Duyvil and his English wife, Annabelle, leading up to Janie’s discovery of Bay’s body. Set in the Gilded Age, the story of Bay’s death and Annabelle’s disappearance makes for a scandalous story told in the newspapers with few real facts. Janie can’t reconcile the reported “facts” with what she witnessed in her brother’s marriage, and enlists a reporter to help her find the truth, no matter what it is. I enjoyed the twists and turns the story took, as more and more secrets were revealed and the mystery came to its unexpected conclusion. This was the first novel I have read by Lauren Willig and it won’t be the last. **I received an Advanced Copy from the Publisher via NetGalley. My opinions are my own and freely given.
It is most fitting that much of the action of Lauren Willig's new novel, The English Wife, takes place on a cold, snowy winter evening in February 1899 at a home along the Hudson River. It's been so cold here in the Northeast, this just fits right in. There are two settings for this crackling good mystery- 1895 England and 1899 Cold Springs, New York. The book opens at the Twelfth Night Ball that American heir Bay Van Duyvil and his English wife Annabelle are hosting at their new home on the Hudson River, a replica of her English home. Amid gossip that Annabelle was having an affair with the architect of the home, Bay is found stabbed and Annabelle is missing. Bay's sister Janie swears she saw Annabelle's body floating in the Hudson River, but no body is ever found. The action moves back to 1895 England, where Bay meets and falls in love with Georgie, a dance hall performer. They marry and Georgie assumes the name of her cousin Annabelle, a wealthy heiress herself who is nowhere to be found. Bay's sister Janie teams up with Burke, a reporter from a New York paper, to discover what happened to her brother and sister-in-law. Janie feels she owes it to Bay and Annabelle's toddler twins, now orphaned. Janie's mother Alva was not thrilled with Bay's choice of wife, and she is the very epitome of an overbearing mother-in-law. Alva rules her household with an iron fist, and believes it her duty to keep the name Van Duyvil untarnished. Anne is Janie and Bay's cousin, they all grew up together, but Bay and Anne were especially close, even after Anne stole Janie's fiance and married him herself. Anne's marriage has collapsed, much to the disgust of Aunt Alva. The scenes between Alva and Anne, and then Alva, Anne and Janie crackled with tension and fantastic passive/aggressive dialogue. If Andy Cohen were around in 1895, he would have signed these ladies up as the original Housewives of New York. The timelines of 1895 and 1899 eventually dovetail, and we find out more information about Georgie, and her cousin Annabelle (does she even exist?), what is really going on in Bay and Annabelle's marriage, and what happened the night of the Twelfth Ball. The characters are fascinating, especially Georgie, and I liked watching Janie blossom from a mousy young lady into a force to be reckoned with. Burke the reporter was an intriguing character with his own secrets as well. There are a lot of secrets in The English Wife, some you can guess and others that took me completely by surprise, which I love in a good story. I also enjoyed the attention to period detail, it is clear that Willig did a great deal of research to get everything just right. I highly recommend The English Wife, for anyone who loves a good historical mystery, mixed with a little romance. (And the book cover is just stunning!)
The English Wife is a new novel by Lauren Willig that takes us back in time to 1899. Annabelle Van Duyuil and her husband, Bayard (Bay) are holding a Twelfth Night Ball at their newly finished home Illyria. Later that evening, Bay is found stabbed to death in the folly and his sister, Janie catches a glimpse of Annabelle in the river. It is believed that Bay pushed Annabelle into the river and then killed himself. Annabelle’s body, though, is not found. There had been rumors swirling around society that Annabelle had been having an affair with the architect of Illyria. Janie does not believe the rumors and wants to discover what really happened that night at the ball. She knows that her mother would never hire a detective, so Janie seeks out assistance from reporter, James Burke. The pair delve into Annabelle and Bay’s lives seeking answers. The more Janie learns, the more she realizes how little she knew about her brother and his wife. Did one of their secrets get them killed? And why did Bay die with saying the name George? The English Wife sounded like such a great book. A Gilded Age story with scandals, secrets and murder. The final product, though, was like being stuck in rush hour traffic. You move forward very, very slowly. The pace was slow, and the dialogue was awkward. There were a couple of good sections, but they were few (and did not make up for the rest of the book). There are numerous characters (with very similar names) and background stories on each of them. The book is written with one chapter in present time and the next chapter takes you back when Bay met Georgie. There are detailed descriptions of homes (inside and out), clothing, art, and plays (many discussions on Shakespeare plays). The author did capture the lifestyle of the rich living in 1899. The only likeable character is the reporter, James Burke. I quickly tired of Janie (whiny) and her overbearing, dominating mother. The author should have given Janie a strong backbone and a curious nature. Instead, she retreats into the wallpaper (very much the wallflower). There is a lot of repetition in the book. The mystery plays out slowly over the course of the novel and the reveal is anticlimactic. The identity of the killer was no surprise. The ending was disappointing with many threads left dangling. The author was attempting to capture the era with the writing style, but it comes across as contrived. The connections to the play Twelfth Night are apparent (for those who have read or seen Shakespeare’s play). The English Wife had potential, but it was not achieved. I found it a tedious book to read and I want the hours I spent reading it back.
Forgetting the plot was the best way to read this. All you need to know is it's a murder mystery set during the turn of the century. The Story~I don't get surprised easily in ordinary non-mystery books. And when I read a mystery I am almost guaranteed to never guess the perpetrator correctly. This was no exception. The whole story wouldn't have happened if not for this relatively small thing, thus making it all the more fascinating how one thing shapes so many lives. I thought it a well-executed (ah, the pun) story with plenty to intrigue me. And it handles the jumps in time without me ever liking one side more. The Characters~If I were in Janie's situation I would've been the same. That's pretty good since I hardly ever relate to characters. As for everybody else, wow, they were distinguishable from one another. They all had certain quirks and flaws and a different voice. Well done. *insert applause here* The Writing and Dialogue~What initially drew me in was the clean and precise writing style. Sure, it's an ARC and I found several mistakes throughout, but that aside this stands out as a carefully sculpted story with not a lot of filler. There were several good lines of dialogue and metaphors/similes. I especially liked the one about Janie being a plague:) I also appreciated how the dialogue never sounded 21st century. The Ending~As with any mystery, it's made or broken by the resolution. Do you believe the motives and do the people support the motives? For the most part I'd say yes. But the denouement was a little too much like Poirot in that the main characters are in the room and the guilty party admits what they've done and why, followed by the chase/action sequence. The reason for this "chase" came across as a mite too convenient and "yeah right." One character leaves in a throwaway sentence and Janie doesn't address the elephant in the room. I could've used an extra chapter to tie things a little neater. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this and can definitely see myself reading it again.
Although the book started off slow and the story was a bit more of a soap opera than I usually I must confess that I truly enjoyed this book. Willig does a wonderful job of blending historical fiction and mystery together into one wonderful story. I loved the characters and found the mystery intriguing. The story is split between two stories, one in the past and one in the present. While this did slow down the plot a bit I didn’t mind the slower portions. The characters developed well and I especially liked watching Janie gain some footing and grow into a more capable woman who could stand up to her mother. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction, particularly the gilded age in New York, mixed with mystery and intrigue.