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A jolly roasting of an old chestnut--English upper-crust woman cheerfully and efficiently conducts a career of free-lance prostitution--but here enterprising Hebe supplements tarting income with salary as a part-time cook for elderly ladies, in order to support her 12-year-old son, Silas, through prep school. Hebe was expunged from the aquiline-nosed lives of her grandparents after she escaped the family digs, at age 16, when threatened with an abortion--the family name had to be protected and no one had a clue (including orphan Hebe) who the father was. Thirteen years later, Hebe, living in a horrid purplish-brick apartment in Penzance, still hears mean family voices but is coping nicely. Son Silas is at his wildly expensive school learning all the correct vowels; and business--cooking and tarting (always kept separate)--is thriving. Then when Silas goes off for a hideous sailing holiday, and Hebe accepts a cooking job in the interim, friends, fans and foes (all interrelated) trip into one another's paths as Hebe moves her center of operations. Among the throng: elderly Lucy and Louisa, in separate households, Hebe's cooking employers; Louisa's nephew Mungo (whose bossy wife is off to sin in California) and Rory the timid hatter--Hebe's clients, besotted and jealous; Bernard Quigley, elderly trader in odd goods, whose old acquaintances, Lucy, Louisa, and Amy (a retired Lady of the Evening), recall rosy nights in a certain Parisian hotel; and nice Jim Huxtable, Bernard's friend and agent. Soon there's a cat's cradle of pursuits and flights, including Silas' bolt from his ""holiday,"" which ends tearfully in one of Bernard's armchairs where mother and son confess all. Wesley's people have bounce and brio--from eccentric or simply slyly sensible oldsters to Hebe's thrilled clients. (There's also a genial company of agreeable dogs in garden and at fireside.) A delightfully lighthearted (very lightly tatted) entertainment.

Pub Date: April 9th, 1986
Publisher: Scribners