January 30, 2017

Book Review: The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

A lifelong passion. An endless search.

Spanning four generations, The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley sweeps from the glittering palaces of the great maharajas of India to the majestic stately homes of England, following the extraordinary life of a girl, Anahita Chavan, from 1911 to the present day . . .
In the heyday of the British Raj, eleven-year-old Anahita, from a noble but impoverished family, forms a lifelong friendship with the headstrong Princess Indira, the privileged daughter of rich Indian royalty. Becoming the princess's official companion, Anahita accompanies her friend to England just before the outbreak of the Great War. There, she meets the young Donald Astbury - reluctant heir to the magnificent, remote Astbury Estate - and his scheming mother.

Eighty years later, Rebecca Bradley, a young American film star, has the world at her feet. But when her turbulent relationship with her equally famous boyfriend takes an unexpected turn, she's relieved that her latest role, playing a 1920s debutante, will take her away from the glare of publicity to the wilds of Dartmoor in England. Shortly after filming begins at the now-crumbling Astbury Hall, Ari Malik, Anahita's great-grandson, arrives unexpectedly, on a quest for his family's past. What he and Rebecca discover begins to unravel the dark secrets that haunt the Astbury dynasty . . .

On the cover of the paperback of this book is a comparison that pushes all the right buttons: A sure bet for fans of Lauren Willig Kate Morton, or Maeve Binchy.” Since Kate Morton is one of my favorite authors, I had to read this novel for myself. It had all the right elements: dual narratives of past and present, a mystery, and a passionate and forbidden love affair.

Anahita’s story, told through a 300-page letter to her son is what captivated me, particularly the parts set in India.  As a young child, Anahita befriends the mercurial daughter of the maharaja and thus changes her life forever, leading her far from home to England. Many years later, she dies soon after her hundredth birthday, convinced with her last breath that her first born son did not die but was taken from her. She extracts a promise from her great-grandson to find out what really happened and so after some soul-searching, he flies to Astbury Hall, the great English manor at the heart of Anahita’s great tragedy. 

There he finds a movie being made starring Rebecca Bradley, an American movie star, as well as the current owner of the hall, Donald Astbury – a strange man with secrets.  All the discoveries leading up to this point is fairly intriguing but then the narrative unexpectedly plunged into Hitchockian territory that did not fit the rest of the book. While it was a surprise, the twist would have been more effective had there been a steady and consistent buildup over the course of the story. Despite the “happy” ending, The Midnight Rose was ultimately uneven and unsatisfying. Not the level of Kate Morton, more a faint taste.

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