In La Barre’s (Stranger in Vienna, 1995) latest novel, a young girl becomes entwined in secrets that resurface upon a young woman’s return to a small town.
Young Melinda MacDougall befriends Wilhelmina Kingsley, the old woman who lives in the grand house across the street. She spends afternoons listening to Ms. Kingsley talk of Isabel Benoit Lockwood, her orphaned niece. Isabel, raised by Wilhelmina, was once married to Forrest Lockwood, the son of powerful and scrupulous Owen Lockwood, owner of Lockwood Machine in Dexter, Mass. The loss of her firstborn son and husband drove Isabel to Rome to mend, while others blamed her for Forrest’s presumed suicide and the tragic death of baby Sam. Upon Wilhelmina’s death, Isabel returns with her cross-eyed adopted Italian son, Carlo, to claim her inheritance—the Kingsley estate. Melinda, who takes expensive piano lessons from Isabel and plays with Carlo, is captivated by the woman; she unknowingly ends up tangled in Isabel’s money troubles and her web of men. Among these compelling, well-developed characters are Mr. Farinelli, an Italian-American involved in real estate, who loves Isabel and tries to protect her; Mr. Zanotti, a sinister Italian man whose true connection to Isabel and Carlo is a mystery; and former father-in-law Owen, who hopes to unearth a secret that will get rid of Isabel once and for all, despite his unsavory sexual feelings for her. La Barre does well by providing backstory through Wilhelmina’s account before moving on to Melinda’s experiences with Isabel and Carlo. The lack of chapter breaks speeds the story along, adding to the gripping nature of this thriller. The characters are multifaceted, yet their motivations are never cut and dried. La Barre’s use of foreshadowing is subtle enough to build suspense, keeping the twists and turns of the plot believable but unexpected.
A fulfilling mystery with impressive plot intricacies.