Reviewed by Ian Lipke
In the Romance writer’s lexicon, a story of delicious intrigue is code for a story that strains the bounds of credibility. But that’s all right. It’s meant to be that the good guys and the worthy girls sort themselves out and everybody lives happily after that. I get it. Well, I usually don’t but I accept it at face value. I know not to ask why the twit got herself in that situation in the first place.
Jill Mansell gives us all that and more. She is a writer who can write creative fiction in this genre and make grumpy critics admire what she writes. There’s more than a touch of authenticity in this current tale. We’ve all seen the latecomer to the packed aeroplane push her way down the complete length of the corridor as the pilot readies to taxi. We’ve seen her drop into her seat and begin to tell a perfect stranger why she arrived so late. Mansell’s twist on this familiar sight is a hoot. She gleefully twists the tiredness out of this clichéd situation and makes it sparkle and hum. She leads the reader into a change of heart. The latecomer is no longer a pest but a delightful young lady who appears to have met a tremendous young buck. A future seems assured but…the story doesn’t go there. All our prognostications are false. The girl is left behind, desperate to keep her dignity intact.
Three years pass. Clemency, our lass from the airport, occupies centre stage once more, but this time she has a mean stepsister. We are drawn into the lives of these two and their friends and, like honey dripping from a cone, the sweetness of Clemency’s tale is slowly revealed to us. We learn that all is not well between the sisters, we learn why. We learn about Ronan and Kate and we hear their story. It is muted but beautifully presented. Mansell does not want too much attention drawn away from Clemency.
There is an absolutely brilliant presentation of a character named George who is trying to win back his ex-wife. I could not feel sorry for George. In fact, he had me chuckling at his attempts to get back into his ex-wife’s bed. As I was meant to, I began to feel anger towards Belle the spoilt wealthy step-sister, but somewhere along the line my attitude began to change, anger to mystification to happiness for her, all manipulated beneath a veil by Jill Mansell. It was a strong tale, well told. In fact the whole novel has a sense of solidity despite the almost Lady Cracknell-like situations that bubble up at times.
I think the weakest part is the explanation the hero gives Clemency for his abandonment of her. It’s a touching little tale but it comes across as just a nifty way to resolve an issue so that he remains the hero that wins Clemency’s heart without losing too much skin from his reputation.
There are numerous little pen sketches of characters, none too finely drawn but subtly hinting at what might be going on. I would love to have read more about the gossips behind the partition separating the pharmacy storage section of the shop. I laughed out loud at some of their antics but Mansell did not make the mistake of developing them further. There was a danger that the story might already have too many foci. The camera had to be kept on the leads.
This was a fine story told by a very good writer who captures an audience and binds it fast. Well worth a read.
By Jill Mansell