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Authors: Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig

Publisher: Penguin Random House, 2016

ISBN 978-0-451-47462-9 (HC)

ISBN 978-0-698-19101 (eBook)

This is a bodice ripper – but it’s much more than that. To the publisher’s credit, the cover does not show a steamy love scene, but simply an old-fashioned door key to a room at the top of a New York mansion, the focus of this book. Positioned in the lock, the key suggests the role of the reader that the authors intended. And what a puzzle the room presents!

The concept of the novel is quite wonderful: three different young women in three different eras of Manhattan’s history. We revisit1892 with Olive, an architect’s daughter posing as a kitchen maid in a millionaire’s fine new house on 69th Street; 1920 with Lucy, a baker’s daughter starting an entry level job at a law firm and hoping to find the connection to her mother’s past in the same mansion, which has been turned into a home for respectable young ladies; and 1944 with Kate, the only female doctor in the same building, now pressed into service as Stornaway Hospital, receiving injured soldiers during the World War II bombing raids. What and who these women had in common is the continuous storyline.

The authors have done a credible job with period atmosphere and enough vital facts to explain their cumulative journey to discover the romance – the romances – inspired by the room at the top of the last set of stairs, above the servants’ quarters, above the hubbub of daily life, above the atrocities of war, and above the personal tragedies: changing fortunes, dashed ambitions, and lifelong regrets. A golden thread is woven into the story in the theme of art: a painter or two, a sketch artist, their models, two murals, museums, art collectors, and an art gallery. The reader may recognize references to the Pre-Raphaelite painters, which set the tone for appreciating the ruby pendant that is a tantalizing clue.

The three best-selling authors who collaborated on this novel deserve congratulations for creating a tapestry that is as much a refresher course in economic realism as it is historical romance. I have one suggestion for the reader who wants to solve the puzzle: Take notes to track the names and genealogy.