Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro

This is another one of those intriguing mementos of the past affects the present stories. In this one Cate Albion, is an artist who hasn’t quite managed to find her niche, she has only succeeded at, much to her shame, becoming the now discarded mistress of a powerful man. She leaves New York behind and travels to London to work at her aunt’s auction house.

While helping inventory the contents of a once grand estate, Endsleigh House, home of the late Lady Avondale, better known by her maiden name Irene Blythe, one of the beautiful Blythe sisters, Cate finds an old shoebox. The contents include a pair of 1930s vintage silver high-heels with rhinestone clasps, a Tiffany emerald, pearl, and diamond bracelet, and the photo of a handsome, young, dark-haired sailor. Fascinated, Cate becomes determined to unravel the story behind these artifacts of days gone by.

She soon discovers that they are all connected with Diana “Baby” Blythe, Lady Avondale’s bright, beautiful sister, as bubbly and effervescent as champagne, and a true wild child, a madcap blonde who seemed to burst right out of a 1930s screwball comedy a la Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey straight into real life. Baby vanished without a trace during World War II.

As Cate’s detective work continues, she finds herself becoming attracted to her aunt’s business partner, Jack Coates, an attraction that may be mutual, but each perpetually puts the wrong foot forward and, haunted by their past failures and disappointments, shies away from intimacy.

The story is interspersed with Baby Blythe’s vivacious, gossipy letters until the mystery is ultimately unraveled in time for the implied happy ending.

This is a fun, breezy little book with some dark shadows hanging over it. I read this book after a relationship ended and Cate’s feelings--“She would never truly matter to anyone. She was disposable and always had been.”--really struck a chord with me. But for anyone who loves the old movies full of glamorous fashions and comfortingly predictable plots where everything always works out all right by the time “The End” appears upon the screen and the lovers always live happily ever after, this may be just the book for you.

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