A Pennsylvania weather forecaster makes a trip to England’s Lake District and finds himself caught up in the intrigue of upper-class life in this debut novel.
Eric Sanders, a timid newspaper weatherman from Altoona, is riding on a train from London to Cumbria when, by chance, a party of strangers joins him in his compartment. One of them, an enigmatic, well-dressed elderly woman, takes an immediate shine to Eric. After offering him a cup of Dubonnet, she introduces herself as Madame Alma Boeld of Ambleside. Ignoring Eric’s intentions to seek residence at an inn, she invites him to her home. As Eric is about to alight the train, he stumbles and is found by Alma and her driver. As if in a dream, Eric is whisked away to Alma’s country abode, where he is tended to by the housemaids and settled into a beautiful bedroom. When he awakes, he finds himself in the world of the fashionable elite. Alma has decided to throw a “ ‘better than never’ 65th surprise birthday celebration” for him. They are joined by Alma’s close friends and family, with whom Eric appears awkward and somewhat out of his depth in this unfamiliar environment. The sense of intrigue further escalates when it is revealed that Eric is married and has left his wife alone to embark on what appears to be a whimsical vacation. Dickson’s novel is brilliantly enthralling as it poses many questions early on. As the story unfolds, the tears and ties among its main characters are gradually disclosed, making for compulsive reading. But the dialogue can prove somewhat tedious, as the author unsuccessfully mimics the phrasing and verbiage of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves in an attempt to represent upper-class conversation: “I have been pondering this very predicament most of the night and early morning and I believe I can settle this entire situation without a lot of fanfare and without the ruination of your family name.” Furthermore, the tale struggles to capture the feel of one particular age, seeming to float between Wodehouse and Downton Abbey, despite the chauffeur driving a 1970 Bentley. This could be excused as the timelessness of high-society elegance but more realistically points to an overseas author imprecisely imagining the English aristocracy from afar. That matters not a jot when the story is this good.
A charming and compelling tale about an American traveler trying to navigate British high society.