Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book review: The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it was a mystery, but artfully written and the author receives high marks for style from me. It starts off with Clemmie, a young layer in a New York law firm, and describes her current life, which is totally focused on making partner and has no room for surprises or other interests. When her grandmother Addie celebrates her 99th birthday, it turns out that there is a secret that has been well hidden, but is now coming out. The family secret is what happened to Addie’s cousin Bea? Bea disappeared a long time ago in Kenya. And while there was at least one person believing to have seen Bea after her disappearance, the presumption is that Bea is dead, eating by the wild animals of the African jungle. 

The remainder of the book follows the story of Clemmie and her attempt to solve the mystery surrounding Bea. The author does that by switching back and forth between Addie’s story and Clemmie’s attempts to determine Bea’s fate. While it takes some time getting used to constantly switching between eras, continents and protagonists, these parallel stories work well. In part the arrangement of the story makes sense since Clemmie’s search for Bea’s fate goes along side the reader learning about the real Addie. 

What makes this book special to me is the realistic description of British society around World War I. The societal changes brought about by the war, the attempt by the aristocracy to hold on to their pre-war status and eventually it all falls to pieces in the African jungle. There is a reference to Downton Abbey by one of the reviewers of this book and I can see similarities in how detailed societal changes are described. I would still not go as far as to say that if you like Downton Abbey you will love this book because a good part of the story plays in modern times and focuses on Clemmie and her life and hopes. That being said, the author is a first rated storyteller that made this book a fun read, mysterious and exciting, but also smooth like a good martini.

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