In her homage to Daphne du Maurier, British journalist Lawrenson moves Rebecca’s characters and plot from early-20th-century England to present-day Provence while retaining the basic story of a naive young woman adoringly in love with an older man who won’t discuss his former wife.
Like Rebecca’s unnamed narrator, the shy young translator nicknamed Eve begins her narration by acknowledging it has been her choice “to stay with a man who has done a terrible thing” before recounting her story. After a brief whirlwind romance, Eve’s lover Dom, who has made a fortune selling his business and now devotes himself to music, has whisked Eve away to Provence. Instead of Manderly, Eve finds herself at Les Genévriers, a crumbling hamlet they plan to renovate. Eve knows Dom has been married before, but he refuses to talk about the marriage although he reluctantly acknowledges that his wife Rachel died. At first Eve is content not to know more, until she realizes Dom lived in Provence before with Rachel. Sabine, a local woman who was Rachel’s friend, describes Rachel as a beautiful, charming and talented journalist. Sabine (think a chic Mrs. Danvers) warns Eve that Rachel once stated that Dom might kill her. As Dom continues to stonewall concerning his past with Rachel, Eve’s suspicions grow. She Googles Rachel and reads her articles. Encouraged by Sabine, she also begins researching an unsolved mystery Rachel was looking into: the disappearance of Marthe Lincel, who went blind while growing up at Les Genévriers, became a famously successful perfumer in Paris, then suddenly vanished. (Lawrenson adds a second, mostly skippable layer of narration from Marthe's sister Bénédicte, whose spirit actually does haunt Les Genévriers.) The mystery surrounding Rachel’s death offers a contemporary twist that modifies the gothic romance spirit of moral ambivalence.
Lawrenson is marvelous at bringing across the sensory, sensual richness of Provence, but she never captures the delicious psychological creepiness of the original; instead, Eve comes across merely as a girl with too much time on her hands.