A treasure hunt leads a young girl to discover her mother’s darkest secret.
In 1936, 9-year-old Alice has been consigned by her mother, Selina Lennox Carew, to the care of her Lennox grandparents at their ancestral stately home, Blackwood Park. The reason for this custodial arrangement is Selina’s trip to Southeast Asia with Alice’s cold, distant father, Rupert, who needs to visit his ruby mines in Burma. Alice is kept abreast of her parents’ travels through her mother’s letters, delivered by longtime family servant Polly. Alice is also directed, by Polly, to discover clues set by her mother, leading the girl on a treasure hunt that helps lift her out of her depression. Alice’s Blackwood sojourn alternates with chapters set in 1925, when young Selina, age 22, is setting the London tabloids ablaze with her antics as one of a cadre of Bright Young People, devil-may-care upper-class flappers and their escorts. But everything changes when, on a madcap treasure hunt of her own, Selina meets Lawrence Weston, a struggling portrait painter and aspiring photographer. The two are drawn inexorably into an affair. Selina's choice of a passionless marriage to Rupert over life with her soul mate, Lawrence, is the fateful decision on which the novel turns, and her rationalizations will be a little too pat to satisfy most readers. Nor will readers be long baffled by Alice’s hunt—given the 1925 backstory, the solution to the puzzle is obvious almost from the start. But genuine surprises do await, even if they entail punishing Selina, after the manner of post-Code Hollywood melodrama, for her breach of class boundaries, disregard for propriety, and unladylike smoking and drinking. The characters verge on stereotypical although there are no true villains and only the domestics lack flaws, particularly Polly and Mr. Patterson, the gardener who introduces Alice to the redemptive joys of nature. However, Grey’s use of sensory detail, enlivening the most mundane of scenes, redeems this novel, too.
Flamboyantly written, if a little too conventionally peopled and plotted.