The Paris Seamstress

Written by Natasha Lester
Review by Cynthia Slocum

Romance and mystery intertwine in this multi-period novel that begins in Paris during 1940. As Nazi forces prepare to occupy the city, a chance encounter with a British spy changes Estella’s life forever. At her mother’s insistence, she leaves for New York immediately, but not before learning that her father was an American. The revelation upends Estella’s sense of identity. Once in New York, she evades the question by immersing herself in work, with the ambitious goal of starting a fashion design business. Another unexpected meeting with a handsome MI6 agent leads to a disconcerting discovery. Not wanting to know more, Estella resists probing the mystery of her birth until circumstances make the dark truth unavoidable. By then, wrong assumptions and tragedy have caused heartache, and Estella’s time with the love of her life is fleeting.

Alternating with Estella’s narrative is the storyline of her granddaughter Fabienne, who visits New York in 2015 with questions for her elderly grandmother about the parents listed on the birth certificate of her recently deceased father. Fabienne’s romance with a man she meets in New York is fraught with a series of obstacles, and she must make some major choices. The story brims with specifics of the fashion industry and ably expresses the creative design inspiration that Estella and Fabienne both experience. In a few other instances, however, the prose style tends to over-explain the characters’ actions.

Surprisingly, the author links the fictional plot of Estella’s birth to real-life scandals from the early 1900s involving well-known celebrities. The mystery loses tension because most of its secrets are divulged well before the story’s conclusion, but the emphasis on romantic tension remains strong to the end.