Thursday, August 20, 2020
The Last Mrs. Summers by Rhys Bowen: Reading Room Review
Before I started reading The Last Mrs. Summers, I had heard the author Rhys Bowen talk about being inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca for its creation. Knowing going into this book that there would be shades of one of my all-time favorite books in its storyline was Pavlov ringing the bell. And, knowing that one of my favorite contemporary authors had created this new story was a guarantee that I had a memorable reading experience in store for me. But, could that all-consuming atmosphere that permeated every page of Rebecca and every pore of your skin be recreated? The answer is a resounding yes. Rhys Bowen did a brilliant job of ensuring that the crucial element of atmosphere never lagged. So many of my favorite trope boxes were checked in The Last Mrs. Summers. English countryside, large estate, cottage, romantic attraction of seemingly opposites, a scary housekeeper, a laid-out breakfast (yes, that’s important), sea cliffs, the sea, secret caves, and the delicious revenge served up cold. Well, to say I was in my reader’s paradise would come close to capturing the sustainable thrill I enjoyed throughout every page.
It is fall 1935 and Lady Georgiana, now Mrs./Lady Georgiana O'Mara, is back from her Kenya honeymoon with Darcy and ensconced in their home sweet home of Eynsleigh, a generous gift from Georgie’s former step-father. The biggest problem Georgie has is wondering who she is going to hire as a cook to replace Queenie, who is a deft hand at baking, but not so much main meal fare. Georgie and Darcy have barely unpacked their suitcases when Darcy gets called up on one of his mysterious missions for the Crown, with Georgie not knowing where he's off to. Left by herself with a few staff, including the ever-exasperating Queenie, Georgie goes searching for company in London, first to her friend Zou Zou and then to Georgie’s grandfather. Neither of those work out, and she thinks her best friend Belinda is still in France, so it’s back to Eynsleigh for Georgie. To Georgie’s delight, she finds Belinda there wanting a travel companion.
Belinda, who has had financial uncertainty in common with Georgie in the past, is now a rich woman due to the settlement of her grandmother’s estate, and one of the less impressive inherited properties include a cottage in Cornwall. Belinda is off to check out the cottage, and, with little urging, Georgie agrees to join her on the trip. After a wild ride in Belinda’s new sports car, the friends arrive after dark at the seaside cottage called White Sails. Its state of disrepair is anything but inviting, but being a remote area, Georgie and Belinda must spend the night in its chilly structure. After a night of discomfort and a surprise visitor, the friends decide they must find another place to reside while assessing the cottage’s needed repairs. Belinda, who used to spend summers with her grandmother in a lovely large house in the area, knows that it won’t be easy to find a place. But, as has often happened with Georgie and Belinda, a chance encounter, this time with an old childhood acquaintance of Belinda’s, produces an invitation from the acquaintance, Rose, to stay with her and her husband at their grand home called Trewoma. Although Belinda has some good reasons to refuse the offer, the overriding need for shelter yields to acceptance.
And, so we come to Manderly, I mean Trewoma, where it is one delightful trope after another that mirrors the novel Rebecca. Rich widowed man (Tony Summers) marries mousey woman (Rose) who is undermined by the creepy housekeeper, who seems to appear out of thin air at times. The death of the man’s first wife haunts the home and is a constant reminder to Rose, the second wife, just how much she falls short of her role as mistress of the house. Georgie is already having uneasy feelings about the inhabitants of Trewoma when one of the household is found murdered. To extricate Belinda and herself from a murder investigation, Georgie will have to dig deep and determine what part the past has played in the present circumstances. Lots of surprises and twists ensue.
What a gift this book was to this reader, who was swept away into the perfect reading adventure. One of my favorite books in one of my favorite series! I adored the similarities to Rebecca, but there is no mistaking that this is a Royal Spyness book. Lady Georgie is clearly at the helm of the action and proving her mettle quite impressively. Georgie has come a long way from the directionless, wandering Royal extra she began the series as. While she remains our loveable, trouble magnet, Georgie has come into her own as a strong, reliable partner, friend, and descendant of Queen Victoria. Rhys Bowen is a master at creating characters whom readers can’t get enough of and stories in which they persevere, while including a good dose of humor and optimism. Readers of this series have a treat in store for them with The Last Mrs. Summers.