The Ashford Affair

Written by Lauren Willig
Review by Ellen Keith

Willig, author of the popular Pink Carnation series, departs from Napoleonic era, flower-monikered spies and the academics who research them for this complicated, compelling family saga, set both in New York City of the 1990s and Kenya of the 1920s.

In 1906, Addie Gillecote, the poor relation of the Earl of Ashford, is taken in by her aunt and uncle when she was left orphaned by a hit-and-run driver. Although never allowed to forget her status, she’s befriended by her glamorous cousin, Bea. By 1926, Bea is married and on a coffee farm in Kenya and has summoned Addie to visit. One look at Bea’s husband, Frederick, and Addie is transported back to when she was the first to meet Frederick and fall in love with him. In 1999, in New York City, lawyer Clementine Evans discovers she knew far less about Granny Addie and Grandpa Frederick than she thought.

No, I haven’t revealed a spoiler, as the reader learns early on that Addie and Frederick were married as Willig alternates between her 1920s and 1990s settings. Instead, the heart of the story lies in Addie and Clementine’s parallel journeys. Each revelation about Addie, Bea, and Frederick brings Clementine out of her one-track workaholic life and closer to her step-cousin. And Addie transforms herself from the downtrodden poor relation to a woman who finds herself useful and wanted in Kenya.

Willig’s characters are all too human, neither saints nor villains. Bea, rather than stealing the man her cousin loved, turns out to be as lonely and insecure as Addie. This is a more sobering book than those in the Pink Carnation series. Family secrets have burdened Addie, Clementine, and Clementine’s mother and aunt. Kudos to Willig for this absorbing book. I look forward to her next foray outside the series.