Review of “The English Wife” by Lauren Willig

This historical fiction novel takes place between 1894 in London and 1899 in New York, moving back and forth in time as the secrets harbored by the characters unfold.

It begins in 1899 in New York. Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil have just completed an estate they named “Illyria” on the banks of the Hudson, and are throwing a “Twelfth Night Ball” to celebrate. But at the ball, 26-year-old Janie Van Duyvil, Bay’s sister, while searching for her brother outside, finds him dead with a knife in his chest. Annabelle is missing, presumed drowned, evinced by one of her dress slippers found by the waterfront. Rumors had been swirling about an affair between Annabelle and Illyria’s architect, David Pruyn, and the immediate assumption is that this was a crime of passion and jealousy.

Janie doesn’t believe it, and wants to try to find out what really happened, but she has to work around her aristocratic and cruel mother, who is dedicated to avoiding scandal at all costs. Janie secretly enlists the help of a reporter, James Burke. They are from very different worlds, but both want the facts, and they make a pact to tell each other the truth, no matter where it leads.

Complicating the search for truth, a mysterious relative of Annabelle’s shows up and claims Annabelle wasn’t who she said she was. But he seems venal and is very interested in Annabelle’s estate. Meanwhile, Janie’s cousin Anne, always close to Bay, implies there is also more to know about Bay. And how did the architect fit into the story?

Back in 1894 London we learn how Annabelle, then called Georgie, got together with Bay. In addition we get insight into the gender politics of the time, both in London and in New York.

We also learn, along with Janie, that the lives of the rest of the Van Duyvil family were part of a carefully constructed web of lies. A great deal of suspense leads to a very unexpected denouement.

Evaluation: This is a good page-turner, and the different aspects of romance drawn by the author were quite well done.

Rating: 4/5

Published by St. Martin’s Press, 2018

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3 Responses to Review of “The English Wife” by Lauren Willig

  1. Kay says:

    Yours is the first review I’ve read of this book and it sounds like one I’d like a lot. I read a couple of the Pink Carnation books by this author, but haven’t read any of her recent books. Think I’ll pick this one up soon.

  2. Nish says:

    This one sounds really good. I wasn’t too fond of the Pink Carnation but I will definitely pick this one.

  3. Beth F says:

    I basically echo Nish.

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