Sixteen years after a trip to Thailand, youthful indiscretions dog four 30-something ex-backpackers, in this voluminous latest from Vincenzi (Almost a Crime, 2006, etc.).
At Heathrow Airport, a teenaged, anonymous returnee from Thailand gives birth in a closet, then abandons her infant. Never fear—“Baby Bianca” becomes a London tabloid darling, and is adopted by a decent middle-class couple. Flashback to Heathrow the year before: Four rucksack-toting strangers—vicar’s daughter Martha; pretty, chubby Clio; tycoon’s daughter Jocasta; and her golden-boy brother Josh—meet while awaiting a flight to Bangkok. They vow to reunite, but lose touch after fanning out across Southeast Asia and Australia. Cut to 2000. Martha is a successful corporate lawyer. Jocasta relishes reporting for a London tabloid, the Sketch, and sex with her “commitment-phobe” boyfriend and fellow scribe Nick. Clio is a caring geriatrician defying NHS restraints (no fan of universal coverage, Vincenzi) to care for her elderly patients. Sterile, she dreads bursting her control-freak surgeon husband Jeremy’s bubble of stay-at-home motherhood. Josh, married father of two, is still as randy as he was back in Thailand, where bronzed backpacking beauties were flinging themselves at him. When Baby Bianca, now Kate, surfaces (as a patient advocate for her grandmother), red herrings proliferate. Blond, striking Kate resembles Jocasta, who covers the NHS-bashing story and forms a bond with her. Kate models for a Sketch fashion spread and would-be birth mothers pester her. Meanwhile, her real mother begins to spiral downward, despite a rejuvenating affair with a younger man and a role as an MP candidate. Rebounding from Nick, Jocasta marries a wealthy retail magnate. Clio leaves Jeremy and finds her soul mate in Kate’s publicist/manager Fergus. Then a jealous mentor spills the MP candidate’s secret to Nick. Nick sits on the story until Kate and the candidate’s conservative parents can be told, and the plot, flirting with implausibility all along, succumbs.
More compact than five seasons of soap operas, but equally brain-curdling.