A French engineer working on the construction of the Eiffel Tower meets a Glaswegian widow, and their romance is as risky as the tower project itself.
Émile Nouguier is second-in-command to Gustave Eiffel, designing the tower that will mark the centennial of the French Revolution at the World’s Fair of 1889. In 1886, construction of La Tour is just commencing. As her only surviving son, Émile has incurred his aging mother’s disapproval for choosing engineering over active management of the family glass factory. During a tour of the construction site by balloon, Émile meets Caitriona Wallace, 31, a widow who has accompanied, as chaperone, two Scottish young adults, Alice and Jamie, the cosseted niece and nephew of a wealthy, childless Glasgow civil engineer. Cait’s husband was killed in a bridge collapse, but the match would have been doomed by an incompatibility between the couple which Colin handles so discreetly that readers can only guess at its nature until the very end. Now, Cait’s only options are positions such as this one or remarriage, but so far only one rich but repulsive suitor has presented himself. The attraction between Émile and Cait is instant but it takes several chapters of hesitation as each gradually sheds his or her own nationality’s version of Victorian reticence. Émile’s mother is dying and has been urging him to marry soon and produce grandchildren before it's too late, but he knows she will never accept Cait, a foreigner. Meanwhile, his ex-mistress Gabrielle has embroiled herself with Alice and Jamie, abetting the Scottish innocents’ forays into the Parisian demimonde. Cait, oblivious to the full extent of her charges’ indiscretions, dreads confessing what she does suspect to her employer, since it will necessitate a return to Glasgow and her own bleak future. Colin has a sure hand with the atmospheres of both cities and with the mores and dress of the period, and she manages to continually raise the stakes for her characters without ever resorting to melodrama.
A novel of soaring ambitions, public and private.