This novel is subtitled “A Novel of Suspense,” but IMO it’s a misrepresentation. Suspense comprises a very small percentage of this story. Mostly, it’s a quaint historical novel, taking place in the end of the Victorian era.
The protagonist Emily is a rich young widow. She had only been married for a few months before her husband died on a hunt in Africa. She never loved him, never even really knew him. She married him to escape her overbearing mother. A year after his funeral and almost out of mourning, she finally starts to learn about her late husband. From his friends and his journals, she paints herself a portrait of a wonderful man who was very much in love with her. And the more she learns about him, the more she falls in love with him… retroactively.
A couple other themes run through the story. Emily chafes under the restrictions confining the women of the British society to a certain place in life. She wants more. She wants to expand her cultural and educational horizons, and her contemplations and arguments about women and their roles in life take up a lot of page-space. Maybe a bit too much.
Another theme suffusing the book is Greek antiquities and the Brits’ fascination with it. Emily’s late husband collected antiques, and so do many of his friends. To feel closer to her departed husband, Emily herself begins studying ancient Greek. She reads Homer and attends lectures at the British Museum.
The suspense subplot is intertwined with the antiquities theme – there is a criminal ring that steals the authentic pieces from private collectors and museums and substitutes them with forgeries. Emily’s husband had had some dealings with that ring, and she tries to figure out to what degree he was involved. Was he a forger? A thief? What should she do?
And then there is the falling-in-love subplot. A couple men vie for Emily’s attention, and she is wavering between her living beaus, her late spouse, and her antiquities studies. Does she even want to get married again? She rather likes the freedom her widowhood holds for her. She shuttles between London and Paris, investigating her dead-husband mystery and enjoying life.
I read her story and enjoyed it with her. The action was a bit slow and retrospective, and all the characters felt slightly remote, but there is a certain charm in this approach. After all, the Brits indoctrinated emotional restraint and shied away from open self-expression, and the book dunked me into such a quiet, dignified atmosphere.
My pleasure in Emily’s story was only marred by my knowledge that less than two decades later, that atmosphere will be shattered by the WWI. The roles of women and men, of classes and societies will change irrevocably in Emily’s lifetime. Were all her struggles and doubts for naught?
That faint anxiety seemed to be running through the book too, although it might be my personal projection.
Note: strangely, I couldn't find this book in the database. I had to import the cover picture from GR. I'm sure it should on BL somewhere, it's not a new book. It was published in 2005, but where is it?
Note #2: Thanks to Murder by Death, I found the title in the database, although it's a different edition from the one I read.