An English country house connects the romantic destinies of several generations in a pleasantly undemanding double-decker debut.
There’s no shortage of tragedy in Riley’s saga, which wraps a modern-day narrative around a World War II story and features drug addiction, imprisonment, sudden death and unhappy love as well as flavors of Madame Butterfly. The first heroine is Julia Forrester, "Britain’s most famous young concert pianist," who is recovering from a personal crisis in Norfolk, England, near Wharton Park, the stately home where her grandparents served the Crawford family, her grandfather growing orchids in the hothouse. Julia encounters the new owner, Kit, whom she met before, when they were children. She also takes possession of a diary discovered in her grandparents’ cottage, which exposes the wartime events. Kit’s ancestor, Lord Harry, was married to the second heroine, Lady Olivia, but never truly loved her. Instead, while recuperating in Thailand after more than three hellish years as a prisoner of war, he meets Lidia, the third heroine, and falls passionately for her. Only one of these women will find long-term happiness, and a further sequence of half-expected yet credulity-stretching plot twists is required before she reaches it.
A straightforward slab of ephemeral entertainment characterized by pedestrian but devoted storytelling.