August 1, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy
Publisher via BookExpo and First to Read
Fiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse, returns with a compelling novel about the thin lines between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness, all hidden behind the walls of The Dakota, New York City's most famous residence. After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she'd make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility--no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one's station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else . . . and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children. In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey's grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won't see a dime of the Camden family's substantial estate. Instead, her "cousin" Melinda--Camden's biological great-granddaughter--will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda's vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in . . . and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell's Island. One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages--for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City--and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side's gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich--and often tragic--as The Dakota's can't hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden--and the woman who killed him--on its head. With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives --and lies--of the beating hearts within.
This was a highly enjoyable story about a famous New York City landmark The Dakota. Already an architectural marvel, it came to the forefront of the tourist trade when one of its residents, John Lennon, was gunned down in front of the building. While that may be what most people associate with the building, this story tells a fictional account of two women who have ties to one of the original architects, Theodore Camden. Told in dual storylines, we follow Sara Smythe, hired to be the manager of The Dakota in the late 1800's. Her relationship with Theo takes an interesting turn and she soon finds herself locked up on Roosevelt Island, an insane asylum of the time. We also follow Bailey a hundred years later, whose grandfather was a ward of Camden, but who will not share in the family estate due to genetics. She takes a job redesigning the Dakota apartment of her "cousin" Melinda, while also delving into the gossip that Theo was supposedly murdered by none other than Sara Smythe. The two storylines creep closer and closer to a climax with each chapter, and I was riveted to the book to find out if Sara really killed Theo! Despite feeling that things perhaps progressed a little too tidily toward the end, I still connected to this story and characters. I thought the history of the building and the information given regarding Roosevelt Island, to be fascinating.
An engaging, interesting, and page turning novel about a famous landmark, from the perspective of the people who resided their for over a century. Very good historical fiction from New York City.
I was asked to review this book through the Penguin First to Read program. As always, my opinions are my own.