The English Wife begins with the apparent murder-suicide of Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil. It has been rumored she was having an affair with the architect of their new home, Illyria, that Bayard built to replicate Annabelle’s home in England and people are certain that Bayard killed her in a jealous rage and then stabbed himself. Othello on the Hudson.
But there’s is a different Shakespearean story, Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” the play Annabelle was acting in when she met Bayard. As in “Twelfth Night” they are playing roles, sometimes more than one. They both have secrets and in a way that is why they died.
Jane van Duyvil is certain her brother did not kill Annabelle. She doesn’t know what happened, but of that she is certain. While the press has invaded their mourning, she sees the opportunity for an alliance and seeks out reporter Burke to ask for his help in exchange for access and information.
I have mixed feelings about this mystery. Part of that is because after Annabelle and Bayard are murdered we get to know how they came to meet and marry in a way that makes us like them a lot. The more I liked them, the unhappier the book made me. They were more interesting than Jane and Burke–and they are dead from the beginning.
I think the characters were a bit flat, though. They seem more like stock characters than newly imagined. Jane is the shy wallflower with the rich interior mind made plucky by necessity. Burke is the strong, somewhat silent romantic lead. Bayard is a prince charming and Annabelle is the stuff of regency romance. So is their mother, Mrs. Van Duyvil, the ultimate social snob. Then there’s a Snidely Whiplash named Giles, someone so one-dimensional that when he does one thing out of character during a crisis, Jane comments on how out of character it is. They all fit their types too well.
The mystery is fair. We learn what Jane and Burke learn as they learn it. The killer is not some unknown person unheard of until the last minute. It makes sense psychologically and with the information we have. Still, it was unsatisfying in many ways. Bayard’s misapprehension about Annabelle was more wish fulfillment than a secret. He knew the truth and ignored it for a more pleasant falsehood.
I received an e-galley of The English Wife from the publisher through NetGalley.