Harper, Feb 17 2015, $25.99
In 1932 London, twentyish Alice Eveleigh falls in love with a married man. Their tryst leaves her pregnant and except for her ashamed parents alone since he lied about a divorce. To save their foolish daughter’s reputation, they tell everyone that Alice is a recent widow and exile her to her mother’s friend Fiercombe Manor housekeeper Mrs. Jelphs in the Cotswold.
At Fiercombe Manor, Alice finds the diary of Lady Elizabeth Stanton, an ancestor of current heir Tom Stanton. In 1898 pregnant Elizabeth prays her second child is a boy to satisfy the unyielding demands of her domineering spouse who scorns his firstborn Isabel for being the wrong gender. As Alice and Tom become friends, the visitor wonders what happened at the end of the last century to Elizabeth and her two offspring.
Though the mirrored decades-apart subplots technique has been used a lot in recent years, Kate Riordan’s execution is lively with the unsympathetic Mrs. Jelphs as the link between the sympathetic mothers. The historical roles of women in 1898 and 1932 make for a mesmerizing comparison while on the other hand the mystery fails to flow as nimbly as their plight.