“I thought, how magical, the first glimpse of snow. By March I would be sick of it, but here in this November instant those tiny flakes swirled with the unspeakable purity of a divine gift.”
It all began with a suitcase. Lovely and vivacious Vivian Schuyler gets a note for an unexpected package at her little Manhattan apartment in 1964. Retrieving it leads first to meeting Dr Paul, an incredibly beautiful doctor with whom Vivian shares instant chemistry, and more importantly, to her great aunt Violet Schuyler Grant, the woman to whom the suitcase belongs. Dr Paul turns into a rather complicated romantic entanglement. Violet leads to something else altogether - not just the stories and history her illustrious socialite family tried to bury, but a mystery that could help Vivian make her mark at the magazine job she took against her family's wishes.
Violet's interesting history starts in Berlin in 1914, but fills in some blanks preceding that period of time. A country on the brink of war, a woman on the bring of divorce, a meeting of brilliant scientific minds, and a murder. All these things lie in the story that unfolds from Violet's POV as Vivian researches the past.
I already knew I enjoyed Beatriz Williams' prose, though I haven't reviewed the other book of hers I've read just yet (A Hundred Summers). This is no exception. Williams has a gift for language that is both timely to the period her characters occupy, and timeless in its accessibility. She's also very capable in mixing time periods and balancing the bounce between POVs that a lot of authors attempt and fail at these days. It never feels like she switches between Violet and Vivian just because she feels like she's supposed to; there's always reasonable story motivation. She also does a nice job in the vein of Dan Brown with ending a chapter in a way that inspires a reader to keep going "just one more" till hours have passed.
I vastly preferred Vivian to Violet, but that was bound to be true based on the limitations on women of their respective decades.Vivian is peppy and sharp and witty, written in the vein of a Sherman-Palladino or Whedon character. Violet's more reserved and a hell of a lot more naive, but the circumstances of her life justify it. It took me awhile to warm to Violet, whereas I loved Violet from the first moment she stumbled onto the page.
The mystery of Violet's murdered husband is a more interesting one than I anticipated, as is the fallout from it. There are a lot of red herrings, but not delivered in a way that felt manipulative. It was set up so that there were plausible possibilities that the reader considered just like Vivian did. There was at least one twist I didn't predict, and that always thrills me.
All in all, definitely a book worth checking out, especially if you enjoy historical fiction!