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The English Wife by Lauren Willig: A Book Review

The English Wife
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: January 9, 2018
Pages: 379
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: From New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age, full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.

     Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he's the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he's recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she's having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay's sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

      My Review: During a party, a murder occurs at the mansion of a prominent couple of New York society, The host, Bayard, has been found dead with a knife stabbed in his chest. His wife Annabelle has disappeared. The murder has  caused a sensation among New York and newspapers are painting Bayard as a murderer who killed his wife because she may have been having an affair. Bayard sister’s Janie is saddened by the accusations made by the press and seeks to find out the truth. She enlists the help of a reporter to find out who killed her brother.

     I found Janie to be a passive, weak heroine. Even though she is one of the main characters, I thought that she was mostly in the background. In the flashback scenes, I was disappointed that she made no real appearance and was only mentioned. I thought that since she is an important character in the novel, the author should have shown us an established relationship between Janie and Annabelle. During her chapters, she does not do much investigating, and I was disappointed that she did not solve the murder on her own, but that it was solved for her. Thus, Janie did not do anything in the novel. Instead, all the other characters around her like her cousin, her boyfriend, her mother all outshine her. Therefore, I found Janie to be a forgettable character.

     Who is Annabelle, the titular character? I don’t want to spoil it, but I found her story much more interesting. Half of the story is told from her perspective. By reading her story, we learn of her identity and the truth of the secrets surrounding her marriage to Bay. Annabelle is a character that we can relate to and whom we empathize with. We feel for her when she faces prejudice for being an English wife rather than an American. 

     Overall, this book is about secrets, betrayal, and murder. Except for Annabelle, I found the characters to be one-dimensional. The murder was very predictable from the beginning. However, I thought that the book was well-written, even though I did not like that there were loose ends. The setting was very atmospheric. The book was hard for me to get into, and I would have loved it better had we focused on Annabelle’s story and left out Janie’s. Still, I would recommend this novel for fans of gothic fiction and mysteries, and I would be willing to pick up another of Lauren Willig’s books. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


  1. Thanks for your review. I've had the book for about a week and have trouble getting into it. But I never give up so I'll give it another try. I've always enjoyed Lauren's books.
    Carol Luciano
    Lucky4750 at aol dot com


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