In many ways the story is like a russian doll - one segment hidden within another, within another - but in other ways the action in present echoes behaviour of the past - let me try to explain. At first there are 3 central characters - Cate Albion, a young artist just returned from NewYork with a bit of a mystery surrounding her, is she home to "lick her wounds" or is she running away from something or someone? Her aunt - Rachael has a thriving antiques business which she runs with Jack, a younger colleague, now that she is a widow. Jack seems to be a self-elected loner, but when he is instructed by Rachael to drive down to Devon to catalogue the contents of a genteel palladian mansion with Cate - they find that they have a crackling attraction to one another, which they each find unsettling for different reasons.
Endsleigh house - this once grand home from a long dead era - is almost a central character in its own right! It held secrets in the past and is still holding them now as Cate gains entry to a locked and long-forgotten room and finds a box of mementos secreted behind a row of untouched children's books. The mystery deepens with the information that the deceased owner of the house was one of the famous Blythe sisters - who were glamorous and notorious for their wild parties and lavish well-connected lifestyles between the wars - and Cate sets out to discover more about the younger Blythe sister who went missing and her final fate was never discovered .
The story of the Blythe sisters is told in a series of letters from the youngest sister - who known as Baby- to her older sister. The language is pitch perfect and it provides a fingernail sketch of coming out into society as debutante - Baby blazes a trail which is sometimes "too much" for even her to handle.
The stories of the other 3 characters is told in a series of flashbacks and discoveries, there is a theme of infidelity and people coming to terms with the 'dark side' of their nature. The plot gives delicious glimpses of the past - the clothes, the decadence, the political machinations - which show it was not all dances and tea parties! The Victoria and Albert museum, the National Portrait Gallery and Tiffany & Co are all utilised to assist Cate in unravelling the strands of the mystery of the shoe box she has found, and the author Kathleen Tessaro explains that she too was given a shoe box full of items to assist her in compiling her intriguing plot.
As I read this book I was strongly reminded of Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella - a more frothy, lightweight book for sure, but one with a similar socialite, 20's debutante as the central character, guiding the heroine with her insights and moral code from another era, and a hidden secret of its own which is pivotal to the plot. http://www.sophiekinsella.co.uk/books/stand-alone-novels/twenties-girl/
Nancy Mitford when I was still at school but next on the list is another by Nancy - ThePursuit of Love.
On an entirely different note - I promised you a review of the Peter James doorstep of a book when I finished it!! Dead Tomorrow was a fast paced novel and a very complex web, tightly woven, but as usual it uncovered the seedy underbelly of crime, set in and around Brighton. The subject matter was sometimes hard to read - a teenager near death with liver malfunction, others with no food and only handouts and drugs to survive on, debt collection and prostitutuion, but Detective Inspector Grace does not rest until he has meted out justice for the underdog.