An epic tale of love, betrayal, and mystery that spans a century and three continents

The Ashford Affair
The Ashford Affair
Offered by Macmillan
5.0 out of 5 stars June 25, 2014

Departing completely from her best-selling Pink Carnation series, Lauren Willig fashions an epic tale of a family’s fall from grace and attempts at redemption which spans a century from England to Kenya to America.

Thirty four old Clementine Evans, striving to make partner at her New York law firm and recovering from her broken engagement, attends the 99th birthday party of her family’s matriarch, Grandma Adeline. It is here Clemmie overhears parts of a long-suppressed family secret that jolts her out of her mundane existence.

The author showcases her mastery of the “then-and-now” story format by cleverly shuttling between the pre-World War 1 manor house of Ashford, between-wars Kenya and modern day New York City.

Upon the untimely deaths of her parents in the early 1900’s, young Adeline Gillecote is sent to live with her aunt and uncle who are a family of nobility and the owners of the great house of Ashford. There she meets her cousin Beatrice and they become closer than sisters. “Bea” is everything Addie wishes she could be: Beautiful, poised, reckless, charismatic and desired by every young eligible suitor in the realm. At every point, Bea’s mother reminds Addie that she is the “poor relation.” Plain, awkward, but possessed of a loyal heart, she idolizes Bea and there seemed nothing could come between the two as they came of age. Nothing except a certain gentleman who divided the two thereafter and caused a scandal that rocked the family to its core.

Bea escapes to Kenya of the mid 1920’s and six years later Addie is reunited with her on Bea’s coffee plantation. Nobody in Clemmie’s family will divulge any information on the mysterious Bea who seemingly disappears into thin air on safari, never to be seen again and presumed to be dead……or is she?

The story takes on a melancholy and despairing tone as Clemmie investigates the tightly suppressed mystery that had befallen the earlier generations of her once aristocratic family. With the help of her former lover and ex-step brother Jon, Clemmie doggedly pursues the truth of her family’s past.

The only minor criticism of the story may sound like blasphemy since I am such a devoted fan of the author’s works. Nevertheless, it seemed I was fully one third through the book before I finally read glimpses of the promised unfolding mystery, a frustratingly long time for this type “A” reader. From there, the author was brilliant in the way she portioned out clues piece by piece and from there it gripped me tenaciously all the way to the end.

The story, never transparent, but artfully veiled, yielded surprise upon surprise as it reached its climax. I dearly loved the heroic Addie and at the same time, was puzzled at her suppression of the events of her early life. I must stop before I spill out some spoilers and I’ve barely scratched the surface of this praiseworthy read.


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