I am a member of Goodreads, a website I’ve mentioned on this blog before. As a quick review, there are lots of things I like about Goodreads: first, once a reader reviews a certain number of books, the site offers suggestions of books to read that are specific to the reader’s preferred genre(s). Second, the site allows readers to tag books that they want to read, books they’ve read, books they’ve reviewed, and many other categories. Third, readers can make friends on Goodreads that also post their reviews, suggestions, and reading progress. Fourth, a reader can join as many groups as she’d like. These groups have discussions that can be very interesting.
One of the groups I’m part of on Goodreads is called Gothicked. I’m also a member of the group called Ladies & Literature and one called Retro Reads. On the Gothicked feed one day, I came across a woman by the name of Mary Miley. She caught my attention because she asked me a question about one of my books. She indicated that she’s also an author of The Impersonator, a Roaring Twenties mystery. Not long after I heard from Ms. Miley, I went to Virginia to the Suffolk Mystery Writers Festival. While I was there my husband took our three kids to Colonial Williamsburg and explored the sights in the village. One of their stops was a bakery, where they bought me a treat – one of the best muffins I’ve ever tasted. It was a sweet potato muffin, and it’s not something I ever would have ordered. But it was delicious. At that bakery they also bought me a souvenir – a cookbook featuring recipes of some of the goodies at the bakery. Alas, the sweet potato muffin recipe wasn’t in the book, but something else was: the foreward, written years ago by none other than Mary Miley.
I emailed Ms. Miley and asked her if she was the same person who wrote the foreward to the cookbook and she answered that yes, she was the one who wrote it, long ago in a former life when she worked in Colonial Williamsburg.
It seemed like a sign: I was running into Mary Miley everywhere, so I needed to read her book.
I’m so glad I did.
The book follows the story of a young woman who is hired to play the role of Jessamyn Carr, the daughter and heiress of a couple who drowned at sea in the early 1900s. Jessamyn, or Jessie, herself disappeared in 1917 at the age of fourteen. Whether she ran away, fell to her death along the rugged Oregon coast where she lived, or was the victim of some other mishap, no one knows.
Well, almost no one.
Almost seven years after Jessie’s disappearance, her maternal uncle, Oliver Beckett, thinks he recognizes Jessie in a vaudeville performance. When he approaches the actress after the show, he finds out that the actress is not Jessie, but is, in fact, Leah Randall, who has been in vaudeville since early childhood. Oliver, a hard man with a love of money, asks Leah if she would be willing to take on a new role: that of his niece, Jessie. If Leah, a dead ringer for Jessie, can convince the trustees of the Carr estate and more importantly, the rest of the family, that she is really Jessie, then she and Oliver can live out their lives in leisure. There are only a couple problems: the charade has to go smoothly and quickly, before Jessie’s twenty-first birthday (at which time her cousin will inherit the fortune), and there’s a lot to learn. Oh, and there’s at least one person who really knows what happened to Jessie, so that person will know Leah’s an impersonator.
Leah initially refuses Oliver’s suggestion, but after she finds herself out of work and out of money, she agrees to take on the role. As the days and weeks go by, Leah finds that being part of a family, something she’s never experienced, has its highs and lows. She has made a promise to herself that she will find out what really happened to Jessie, and her investigations lead her into speakeasies, the seedier areas of 1920s-Portland, and some very dangerous circumstances.
I loved The Impersonator. Ms. Miley does a beautiful job exploring the worlds of vaudeville and Prohibition-era speakeasies. I love the descriptions of the Oregon coast and the house Leah moves into; it’s fun to read about the lives of the wealthy in the 1920s. Leah and the members of Jessie’s family are a group of well-developed characters; Leah is tough, but spunky and kind; her cousins, twin girls, are naive and fascinated by her; her male cousins are less so-they have a hard time believing that Leah is really Jessie and aren’t afraid to tell her so; Jessie’s aunt is cautious and can be overbearing; Jessie’s grandmother can be distant, but is shrewd and has a soft spot for Jessie.
The book is fast-paced and never feels like a history lecture. It had me guessing up to the very end, and what a satisfying ending it was! I found myself suspicious of almost everyone at one time or another, and it was great to be kept on my toes throughout the novel.
The Impersonator was the bee’s knees!
Until next week,