Veteran chronicler of country-house misdeeds (The Dark Side of the Sun, 2000, etc.) spices her latest story of adulterous gentry with a Russian princess who buys her way into English society using stolen emeralds as the Bolsheviks take control of her native land.
Set after 1917, when Europe is recovering from one war and fearing an expansion of the Bolshevik revolution, matriarch Augusta Langham has only one objective: She wants son Bertie to marry well, and soon. Augusta is one of those implacable forces that are hard to resist, and Bertie doesn’t really try. She orders him to marry Mai, a wealthy young neighbor and heiress Augusta has picked out for him. But Mai is a Suffragette, and that’s too much for Augusta, who prefers someone more tractable. A new bride is needed, which is just the role beautiful Russian Princess Zhenia has been looking for. Newly arrived in England with her stash of emeralds and other expensive goodies stolen from a fellow Russian émigré in Paris, she is currently living with the aging Countess Olga, to whom she claims to be related. Zhenia is actually a scheming former ballet dancer determined to survive, whatever it takes. Impressed by the emeralds, Augusta engineers a marriage between Zhenia and Bertie, while Mai marries neighbor Ned, a handsome young man whose only passion is his butterfly collection. As Zhenia makes sure she gets what she wants, even if it means committing adultery to produce an heir, Mai has twins. Then, as Ned becomes increasingly abusive, she flees with the children to London, where she falls in love with Nicolai, a Russian émigré. But neither Zhenia nor Mai can quite escape her past—as the Russian secret police track the stolen diamonds, and Ned, determined to get them back, pursues Mai and his children.
The Russian angle doesn’t quite work, but there are still enough agreeably romantic adventures and high living in town and country to entertain.