Beautiful Illusion

Written by Christie Nelson
Review by Ellen Jaquette

San Francisco, 1939. Young reporter Lily Norby jumps at an opportunity to cover Treasure Island, the upcoming site of the Golden Gate International Exposition. This assignment leads her to a diverse cast of characters, including Tokido Okamura, the head of the Japanese delegation on the Island, and Woodrow Packard, a Mayan art expert and dwarf recruited by the exposition for his expertise. Friendships form, and intrigue ensues. The political tensions of the time loom large over life at Treasure Island, and Lily wonders if Tokido is more than just a Japanese diplomat. As both she and Woodrow question Tokido’s possible military motives, Woodrow also finds himself digging deeper into Lily’s mysterious past.

There’s much to draw you into the world of Treasure Island: the mystery and vivid setting kept the pages turning quickly. The three main characters, Lily, Woodrow, and Tokido, are unique and nuanced, and I found myself invested in their lives, desires, and mysteries. However, facts and historical detail feel forced at times and weigh down the story. A quick description of a grocery store during Lily’s investigation into her family notes that “shelves were lined with tins of Hill Bros. coffee and Carnation canned milk, boxes of Bisquick, Quaker Oats, Jell-O, and jars of Beech-Nut baby food.” Such asides detract from understanding Lily’s own feelings about her colleagues, friends, family, and even her love life. Perhaps as a result, the final chapter to Lily’s family secret feels rushed and unearned. Regardless, the mystery and setting promise to keep you engaged, and Beautiful Illusion is a whirlwind escape to the Golden City on the eve of the Second World War.