Who is Clara Pickle? And why has Betty Dean’s grandmother left her a large sum of money? British novelist Jewell (After the Party, 2011, etc.) delivers the answers in a drawn-out tale of parallel destinies set in London’s Soho.
Moving to the island of Guernsey at age 10, Betty Dean meets Arlette Lafolley, her stylish stepgrandmother whom, a decade later, Betty will nurse through the closing chapters of her life. After Arlette dies, Betty learns the older woman has left her a little money, her wonderful vintage clothes and a mystery. The will names a stranger, Clara Pickle, last known at a Soho address, as the recipient of a much larger amount of cash; Betty decides to move to London, find Clara and start her own life. With Betty efficiently established in her new London home, Jewell then sets up the parallel story: Arlette’s arrival in the same city in 1919. Arlette’s friendships with a portrait painter and a black jazz musician become the subject of Betty’s search, narrated in alternating chapters. Betty makes new friends herself, including an attractive DJ/market stall holder and a famous rock musician. Both women are on voyages of discovery, both make mistakes, but whereas Arlette’s destiny goes distinctly haywire, Betty not only solves the mystery, but gets her guy as well.
A capable romance with fashionable period angles, yet the general impression is perfunctory.