Mrs. Theresa Marshall is a New York socialite, married to a wealthy if philandering man, beautiful and aging well, and she's enjoying a steamy affair with her Boyo, a young man younger than her own sons. The only fly in the ointment is that Boyo (real name Octavian Rofrano) is an honorable man and he doesn't want to sneak around having an affair; he wants to marry Theresa. She's content with things as they are, as is her husband, who is, as always, engaged in his own discreet affair. When Theresa's bachelor brother, Jay Ochsner, announces that he's finally fallen in love and wants to marry, he enlists Theresa's help finding him a cavalier. Family tradition dictates that he send an unmarried man as his cavalier to propose to the lovely, young, and fabulously rich Sophie Fortescue rather than going himself. Predictably Sophie says yes. She may have money but Ox has the name that will gain her admittance into the old New York version of aristocracy. Theresa enlists her Boyo as Ox's cavalier and to investigate Sophie's family, of whom little is known, two requests that will reverberate with unavoidable consequences through all of their lives.
The plot is a combination of murder mystery and a romp through the lives of the very wealthy but there's so much more than just a fun plot here. In Theresa and Sophie, Williams sets up not only the contrast of dewy youth and innocence with realistic, pragmatic middle age, she also contrasts society's changing attitudes towards sex and marriage. Theresa's character is strong and glittering. She is adept at arranging situations to her advantage, mostly, but not always, stopping short of being manipulating. But she's clearly also good to those she loves, not just to herself, making her more sympathetic than selfish in the reader's eyes. As events start spiraling out of Theresa's control, she doesn't panic; she just smoothly adjusts course. Sophie is a much more naive character, testing the water to find out who and what she wants to be. She isn't quite as nuanced as Theresa and her chapters were correspondingly that little bit less engrossing. The narration shifts from Theresa to Sophie in alternating chapters, generally switching the action from one to the other just as the narrative tension reaches fever pitch. Interspersed occasionally throughout the story are gossip column tidbits hinting at the main characters' involvement in the trial of the century. The columns only slowly reveal facts designed to entice and suggest but not to fully explain. These are used to good effect for sure. The beginning of the book is rather languorous but the pacing escalates to a gallop in the final third of the book so that it is impossible to put down. The climax is shocking and appropriate and the ending is earned, even if it isn't a complete surprise. Fans of historical fiction will thrill to this one; it has everything we've come to expect from novels set in the 1920s: scandal, impossible love, murder, adultery, and honor.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.