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Caroline Tressidor, 14 in 1887 (with Queen V.'s Golden Jubilee in the background), accidentally reveals her mother's adultery to her cold banker-father in the first chapter of this new Holt romance/gothic. In the ensuing brouhaha Mother is exiled to France (with her lover Capt. Carmichael) while narrator Caroline is shipped off to spinster Cousin Mary's ancestral estate in Cornwall--where she's charmed by the young Landower brothers on the neighboring estate (fallen on hard times). Then: back to London for more scandal--because when papa Tressidor dies, Caroline learns that her real father was Mum's captain-lover! Furthermore, now disinherited, Caroline promptly loses her previously adoring fiancÉ, fortune-hunter Jeremy Brandon (who quickly switches his affections to legitimate, rich, doomed half-sister Olivia). Understandably, then, Caroline is becoming very sour on the subject of men--a bitterness which increases during a visit to France: she is wooed there by the vacationing Paul Landower (whom she's always had a fantasy-passion for). . . only to discover that Paul is married to crass young heiress Gwen, whose cash saved the Landower estate! And, when she eventually settles in with crusty, dear, pre-feminist Cousin Mary, learning to run (and eventually inheriting) the Tressidor farm, Caroline will continue to repel the yearning advances of Paul, who deeply regrets having married for money. How, then, will these lovers get together? Well, there just happens to be a secret psycho-murderer in the neighborhood. . . and nosy Gwen will conveniently become his latest victim, paving the way for the fadeout embrace in 1897, the year of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. As in Time of the Hunter's Moon (1983), Holt doesn't have a strong, well-paced plot here: there's a juicy clump of family secrets at the start, a lot of pleasant filler in the middle, a small flurry of mystery at the end. But Caroline is yet another of Holt's crisply likable narrator-heroines; there's a sneakily charming subplot-romance between Paul's wastrel brother and Caroline's ex-parlormaid--a courtesan turned milliner. And the themes of marrying-for-money and double-standards run high throughout--giving a nice feeling of undertow to this slightly ragged, unsuspenseful, yet ever-readable period entertainment.

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 1984
Publisher: Doubleday