Doubleday | 2018 (26 July) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is May 1948 and Eve Forrester lives an unhappy, monotonous life, trapped in marriage to Clifford, a man who does not love, who stifles his young wife. Eve knows she should be grateful. Many women lost their men during the War while, for young single women, there might not be enough men to go around. But it’s such a dull existence. And it doesn’t help that her mother seems to prefer her son-in-law to her own daughter. Then out of the blue a letter arrives from a solicitor in Cannes on the French Riviera. Guy Lester has just died and he has left Eve a bequest. Eve has no idea who Mr Lester is but in order to solve the puzzle she is asked to journey to Cannes. Clifford is too busy to go. This suits Eve perfectly.
And so begins the story of Eve Forrester’s summer stay in the Lester coastal villa. Here she rubs shoulders, not only with Lester’s suspicious family, but also with film stars, writers and artists, even exiled royalty. It’s a world away from the one Eve has left behind and it captivates her every bit as much as Fatal Inheritance seduces the reader. Reading this wonderful book on a hot summer’s day, it’s so easy to imagine this glamorous world so beautifully evoked by Rachel Rhys, you can almost smell the suntan lotion and hear the splashes in the pool. But this is no paradise. The arrival of Eve, a rival to Guy Lester’s other heirs, stirs up jealousies, bitterness and sadness. And something else, much worse than that.
There is so much to Fatal Inheritance. It has fascinating, intriguing mysteries at its heart – but its power and beauty is in the way that it brings this beautiful place to life at such a curious time in its history. The War is only recently over and it’s left its stain. It overshadows everything here. But also beyond the South of France, we’re frequently made aware of the devastating impact of the War on everybody, wherever they are.
The setting is exquisitely portrayed but so too are the people. Eve herself is the centre of the novel and she’s a wonderful person. She’s trapped by her circumstances, by the time in which she lives, but she’s so close to grabbing her independence. By contrast, her husband and mother are truly horrible… Another outstanding portrait is that of the Hollywood star, Gloria. How my heart went out to this woman. But there are many others here who sparkle or storm through the pages, including the writer Sully and the youngest Lester child, Libby. And then there’s Guy himself, the catalyst. Most characters are not straightforward, they have hidden sides to them, sad secrets in some cases, but there are a few with such a propensity for love that they make this superb novel shine.
Rachel Rhys is the pseudonym of Tammy Cohen, the author of outstanding psychological thrillers, and it’s under the guise of Rachel Rhys that she explores deeper themes in the most evocative historical settings. A Dangerous Crossing is one of my top three novels of last year and I suspect that Fatal Inheritance will occupy a similar position in 2018. This is storytelling at its very finest, so perfectly matched to our beautiful summer.
A Dangerous Crossing