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 An agreeable period story in the Masterpiece Theater tradition as an upper-class girl details her encounters with nouveau-riche neighbors in their lakeside mansion where passions flare, parents betray, and true love prevails. Set in the years before and during WW I, the tale is narrated by Chrissie Ascham, who lives with her well-born but scholarly family in the Lake District. The 15-year-old Chrissie, used to frequenting the grounds and boathouse of a neighboring estate, watches as the old house is torn down and replaced with a mansion. She soon meets and befriends the family of the builder, Alfred Dunstan, a domineering self-made manufacturer who wants the house to be a summer home for his gentle wife Letty, grasping daughter Bea, and aloof son Jack. But though no expense is spared, the house will not bring the family the respectability Dunstan desires. Instead, after Chrissie accompanies Bea and Letty to Venice, where they meet handsome 18-year-old Philip Kassel, the family begins to fall apart. Letty and Philip fall in love, and Philip comes to England to see her; but when Dunstan learns of their affair, he brutally threatens Letty, who, heartbroken, parts from Philip. Meanwhile, Chrissie finds herself attracted to handsome Jack, who hates his father. Then when war breaks out, Jack enlists, and Chrissie becomes an ambulance driver on the Western front. The mansion is closed up. After a war injury brings Chrissie home, she almost marries a local doctor, but a surprise meeting at the deserted mansion with a temporarily AWOL Jack, who's learned that Dad is trading with the Germans, rekindles her love for him. Dunstan senior turns nasty, but endings are happy and picturesque- -including a wedding in Venice, no less. Another period piece from McLeay (After Shanghai, 1996, etc.) with, once again, more life and intellectual energy than most.

Pub Date: July 10th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15666-9
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1997