Romance and mystery, war and Prohibition, infidelity and murder, inheritance and lies—the list of ingredients is long and potent in this cocktail of dramatic suspense rooted in early-20th-century Florida.
Scarred for life by her mother’s murder when she was 8 years old—a crime for which her father has now been convicted—Virginia Fortescue has just learned of a new tragic loss: the death, by fire, of her estranged British husband, Simon Fitzwilliam. This is just one of the many layers of intrigue in Williams' (The Wicked City, 2017 etc.) latest, which picks up on characters from her earlier book, A Certain Age (2016). Is Simon really dead? What drove Virginia and Simon apart? And what about Samuel, the perhaps more truthful—or brutal—twin brother to seductive Simon? Williams stirs a whirlpool of enigmas around Virginia while pulling in secondary characters like Simon’s flapper sister, Clara, Virginia’s angelic daughter, Evelyn, and Revenue Agent Marshall, who's constantly warning Virginia about dangers to herself and her child. But cool Virginia, who drove a Red Cross ambulance during World War I, has mettle enough for these challenges despite being variously deceived, attacked, and drugged. Suspended between parallel time frames—the beginning of Simon and Virginia’s relationship in 1917 in the field hospitals of France and the "present" day, 1922, in Florida—this vertiginous tale is characterized by deceptions and secrets held by many characters, Virginia included. Williams’ story, a rich brew of suspicion and intensity, also has a flavor of Daphne du Maurier, with its Cornish roots, dubious housekeeper, and embattled heroine. While galloping late revelations and events may leave the reader feeling whipsawed, there’s no denying the author’s full-blooded commitment to her intricate edifice.
Even if the novel's strength ebbs in the final serpentine twists, Williams spins a good, spirited yarn.