After becoming engaged to a Marine just before he ships off to the Middle East, Annie travels with her mother to England, where a mysterious crumbling estate and an aging aristocrat change her life.
Annie meets Eric in a bar and finds herself engaged to him within a month. He’s preparing to deploy, and she’s packing for a trip to Banbury, England, with her mother, Laurel, who has some oddly secretive business to take care of. Days pass while Laurel is locked in complicated negotiations, so Annie hangs out in a pub, reading a biography of the vibrantly eccentric Duchess of Marlborough—a real person worth a Google search—who had lived in Banbury. Annie and the book catch the attention of Gus, an older gentleman who frequents the pub and knew the Duchess (aka Gladys) years ago, when she lived in the village as a recluse. Gus shares stories of the duchess’s last years, and here the author blends fact with a story built around two fictional characters, the biographer and the duchess’s paid companion, both of whom helped her outwit family members who were trying to get their hands on her fortune. After Annie realizes the home where the Duchess lived is the same property her mother is trying to sell, some investigation reveals she has a more personal stake in the story than she imagined. Gable (A Paris Apartment, 2014) tells an engaging story of a fascinating, largely forgotten historical figure against the backdrop of two fledgling romances, those of Annie and her fiance, who grow closer through emails, and the biographer and the companion, whose romantic adventures went awry but may still be salvaged decades later. Blending fact and fiction in an entertaining but occasionally confusing way, the author offers a fascinating version of the reclusive years of the larger-than-life duchess. Many aspects of her life are hard to believe, yet it’s the fictional story that sometimes stretches the threshold of credibility. Characters try too hard to maintain big secrets that, once revealed, seem unworthy of such effort, especially given how easily some of the big conflicts could be eliminated with simple conversations.
A fine tribute to a one-in-a-million character despite a few hard-to-swallow plot devices.