Simply put, this book is just plain fun.
Leah Randall, an accomplished vaudeville performer (and older than she looks) is mistaken for Jessie Carr. Carr is the heiress to a fortune built by the lumber empire but has been missing for the past seven years. The uncle who makes the innocent mistake then hatches a scheme whereby Leah will pose as Jessie Carr and claim the inheritance. Once the ploy has been completed, Jessie will quietly travel Europe and siphon most of the money off to the greedy uncle.
Leah is at first put off by the dishonest plan, but when her troupe disbands, she is left without a stage on which to play. The two practice her lines, and Leah gathers all the info she can about Jessie before trying out for the most dangerous role she’s ever played. Once she begins to ingratiate herself into the family, she begins to uncover far more sinister plots than her own.
Set in the roaring 20s, the plot speeds along like a flivver late to the dance. Our heroine glides between society parties to underground speakeasies to backstage dressing rooms with ease. At times the book is reminiscent of the original Parent Trap and at others an Agatha Christie rural house mystery.
From the opening of the book:
I felt his eyes before I saw his face. A quick sweep of the audience and I spotted him, the man from last night. On the aisle again, row C, seat 1. A good choice—his bulk would have overflowed the armrests of an interior seat and caused his neighbors to curl their lips and lean away.
I am sensitive to being watched. Whenever someone’s eyes rest overlong on me, a prickly awareness flushes across my neck and shoulders. It comes from a lifetime spent onstage, honing the subtler tricks of the trade—the toss of the hair, the jut of the hips, the flutter of the fingers—whatever pulls the audience’s attention. I can throw attention too: a gasp and wide eyes will send them searching for the cause of my surprise; my languid examination of another actor will turn every head in the audience to him. I know what I’m doing, and I know when I am doing it. At that moment, I was doing nothing. I had finished my line and moved stage right where I stood like a marble statue so as not to distract from Darcy’s solo verse. I was doing nothing to draw the fat man’s stare, yet he was staring.
Had he been young and attractive, I would have been pleased, but this man made me uneasy. He wasn’t watching the act; he was watching me. Two nights in a row. I’d put it down to my great beauty, but I live my life close to the mirror, and I know better.
Leah/Jessie has a well-developed voice. She is neither too naive nor too rash. She is caring and sympathetic and when she suspects there is more to Jessie’s disappearance, she relinquishes the idea of gaining piles of money for the rest of her life and instead focuses on finding the truth.
The setting for most of the action is Cliff House, the ancestral home of the Carrs. Its situation, perched on a cliff is both atmospheric and practical to the story.
When rich people say “summer cottage”, they don’t mean a shack in the woods that brings you closer to nature. The Carr summer cottage stood three stories tall, with wings forming three sides of a square, and every board of it made of Oregon timber as befitted the home of an Oregon lumber baron. Except for the stone chimneys on each end, the entire mansion was painted banana yellow and white — a celestial invitation perhaps, for the sun to burn through the clouds that so often overstayed their welcome along this coast. ~Pg. 72
Miley has a great debut on her hands. I look forward to more of her vivacious and sparkling writing.
Many thanks to Justin at St. Martin’s for the review copy.
St. Martin’s Press
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 368 pages