A revered skin care doyenne battles a private equity turnaround team in Vincenzi’s latest (More Than You Know, 2012, etc.).
Athina Farrell founded the House of Farrell cosmetics firm with her handsome husband, Cornelius, in 1953, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Now, as the queen’s diamond jubilee approaches, the venture capitalists who have taken over Farrell’s have installed Bianca, a high-powered turnaround artist, as CEO, charged with the Sisyphean task of revitalizing the near-bankrupt firm. Athina, now 85 and widowed, had no choice but to allow the buyout, but having negotiated 51 percent of the stock for herself and her two children, Bertram and Caroline, she hopes the family can retain control of the company. Since her superannuated lawyers didn’t build voting rights into the mix, this may be more of a challenge than Athina anticipated, but she has an ace up her well-tailored sleeve: a recipe for a blockbuster perfume. As is typical with Vincenzi’s novels, this premise brings together myriad characters (the Character List at the beginning is indispensable) and subplots. Bianca, who has depended on her staid banker husband, Patrick, to do the heavy domestic lifting as she toils 24/7, has her world upended when he enters the all-consuming field of hedge fund analysis. With both parents thus preoccupied, preteen daughter Milly endures vicious bullying at private school; her anguish is noticed but not addressed. Florence, a longtime Farrell’s retainer who manages a tiny but opulent store frequented by London’s glitterati, has a secret: she and Cornelius carried on an affair for years. Why did Athina withhold her perfume formula for decades? All part of the matriarch’s plan to sabotage the CEO, Bianca thinks. After about 400 pages, the multiple plotlines begin to pay off. While many readers may find this fictionalized case history of a company in crisis absorbing, others, particularly those seeking an escape from long-winded meetings and office politics, may not.
A workplace drama that often feels too much like work.