Vincenzi, who died in February, wrote blockbusters (A Perfect Heritage, 2015, etc.) focusing on Fleet Street journalists, desperate politicians, fashion mavens, and physicians, all of whom are represented in her last novel, which follows a group of characters from 1936 to 1955.
As with much of Vincenzi’s oeuvre, a populous cast is introduced at the beginning, mandating constant cross-checking of the indispensable Character List for the first 200 pages or so. Tom rises from a working-class background to become a solicitor and a candidate to be a Member of Parliament from the Labour Party. Top model Diana, whom true love has eluded, relieves the boredom of her marriage with fashion shoots, flings with photographers, and posh nightlife. Jillie, an obstetrician, and Ned, a pediatrician, are on the verge of marriage until Ned reveals that he's gay. Alice married Tom but has always felt overshadowed by his first wife, Laura, who not only saw him through World War II, but died giving birth to their stillborn child. Alice gave up her hard-won nursing career to have three children with Tom, but the strains of domestic life—Labour politicians don’t hire nannies—take a toll. The behavior of the characters is often arbitrary: Tom, for example, appears to go from understanding husband to petty tyrant overnight. Diana can be gracious one minute, vindictive and conniving the next. Three main conflicts heighten the stakes. Diana and Tom find themselves helplessly in lust just as he is about to break into the political mainstream. The heroic Ned draws his superiors’ ire by advocating for hospitalized children, risking dangerous publicity: If the press sniffs out his homosexuality, ruin and jail are guaranteed. Tom’s advocacy for the new National Health Service is key to his politics but proves problematic for his family. Vincenzi’s forte was delivering her doses of socio-economic realism with a large dollop of syrupy scandal.
Vincenzi’s vast readership, both in the U.K. and across the pond, will savor this last book.