The English Wife

Written by Lauren Willig
Review by Jeanne Greene

Willig’s clever romantic mystery opens with the death of Bayard Van Duyvil, a handsome American aristocrat, and the disappearance of his lovely English wife, Annabelle. ‘Bay’ was stabbed with a jeweled dagger—that much is indisputable—but by whom? And why? And where is Annabelle? Alternating between 1894 and 1899, the novel uncovers the families’ secrets and exposes generations of scandalous behavior, before culminating in a shocking denouement.

London, 1894: Georgie, an actress, falls for a man she’s sure will break her heart. But Bay Van Duyvil is not a cad. He’s a charming, considerate man. Their bittersweet love story unfolds in sharp contrast to life after Bay’s demise. New York, 1899: According to his sister Janie (who thinks she knew him best), Bay would never commit suicide. Normally self-effacing, Janie becomes a seeker after the truth, even when it turns shocking. Joining forces with Burke, an investigative newspaperman, inspires the young woman to put self-doubts aside and think logically—until she falls in love. Janie’s love story is not as touching as her brother’s, nor will it end as badly.

The English Wife is a mystery with a large and occasionally confusing cast. Outsiders like Janie’s partner in crime-solving are more original and sometimes more interesting than Bay’s unpleasant family. Watch out for red herrings. Willig is too clever to give her villains away early but, given her skillful plotting and smooth writing, you will enjoy reading until the end.