Usually creating suspense means making the reader wonder what will happen next, but in this story of New York circa 1911, we wonder about what has happened before. William Dysart is an attorney representing Lydia Billings, a wealthy and powerful widow trying to buy a piece of Long Island property belonging to Sybil Curtis, a mysterious Englishwoman who refuses to sell at any price. The New York Tribune has called Dysart’s wife, Arabella, one of the two most beautiful women in the city, along with Maxine Eliot (sic). Arabella’s materialism and snobbery justify Dysart, who is falling in love with Miss Curtis, leading him to extraordinary ethical violations in his duty to his firm and his client. The cause of the enmity between the client and Miss Curtis reveals itself gradually. At the same time, we learn more about Dysart’s deceased mother and the circumstances of her leaving his wealthy father. Arabella urges him to accept the father’s gift of a mansion, a disagreement that will obviously lead to the end of their marriage.
Personally, I might be inclined to make allowances for a woman as beautiful as Maxine Elliott, but Dysart is busy falling in love with the mysterious Englishwoman. Set against the last days of gaslight New York and the height of the suffragist movement, this novel is more of a romance than an historical novel, but the characters are original, and watching their back story unfold in surprising twists makes it a worthwhile experience.