Billington (Theo and Matilda, 1991, etc.) sets many plates spinning in a combination chick-lit thriller.
Alice Lightfoot (“So clever. So pretty. So independent”) is shockingly young to be both a grandmother and a widow. Even more shocking is the fact that she has not had sex since her husband Richard died three years ago. A successful journalist, with a London flat and a country cottage—where her daughter Florrie and granddaughter Lily live—and a confused father in a nursing home, perhaps her life is busy enough. But as this hectic story opens, Alice is deluged in eligible bachelors: wealthy interviewee Sir Brendan; old opera companion Jonathan, who suddenly declares an undying passion; her editor Guy, and prospective interviewee, deep-sea diver Blue. It’s with Blue that Alice ends her sexual fast, but within days he has disappeared in Guy’s yacht and is feared murdered. Meanwhile, Lily’s brief kidnap by a mysterious woman named Dora, plus strange sightings of a ghostly figure, composes another plot strand—one involving Alice’s mysterious mother who reputedly died when she was three. Billington dodges swiftly across and among these multiple storylines and character groups. But as the plots thicken, the coincidental meetings multiply, the thriller elements get wilder, and Alice begins to sound more like her sister in Wonderland: “She wished the people in her life would stay in separate boxes and present themselves one at a time.” Most entertaining is the juggling of possible lovers—Alice also sleeps with Sir Brendan, and makes out with Guy—while the business with guns and dogs and financial corruption fails to thrill. Alice’s threatened pregnancy and near drowning are red herrings, but not the rumors of Richard’s sexual liaison with Jonathan. Will Dora turn out to be Alice’s mother, and who will be the man of Alilce’s choice?
Interest in this capable but curious amalgam of fantasy and female soul-searching diminishes in proportion to its cornucopic content.