By Fiona Davis
I had forgotten how much I enjoy historical fiction until I read this book.
The story begins in the late 1800s and follows a young woman from her home in England to her new home and job in America. In England, Sarah Smythe works as the head housekeeper of a beautiful hotel. She is career minded and professional. One day, she saves the life of a young girl, the daughter of a well-known architect, which changes her life forever.
The architect, Theodore Camden, invites her to come to America to serve in the same position at The Dakota, a brand-new multi-family, high-end apartment building in New York, and once there, she is promoted to managerette. Sarah is the daughter of an Earl and his housekeeper, her mother – so she is not acknowledged by the Earl and has had to build a life for herself.
The story flows back and forth between the 1880s and the 1980s. Bailey Camden, a recovering drug and alcohol addicted interior designer, is fresh out of rehab and a job when she agrees to run an interior design project for her “cousin,” Melinda. Melinda lives in the Dakota and is a descendant of Theodore Camden, the architect of the building. She is a spoiled, entitled 29-year-old who is eagerly awaiting her 30th birthday and access to her Camden trust fund. Bailey, whose great grandfather was the illegitimate son of Theodore Camden and Sarah Smythe, is not recognized in the Camden trust, and she, like Sarah, must build her own life.
During the hideous renovation of Melinda’s apartment, Bailey, who appreciates the old-world charm and history of the building, discovers clues about her true relationship to the Camden legacy. This is a story that weaves together events from the past with those of the 1980s to tell the story of the Dakota and its often-flawed inhabitants.
There are parts of the storyline that were not explained or justified – such as why Sarah gets shipped off to an insane asylum – and why she doesn’t plead her innocence to the murder of Theodore Camden. Towards the end, there is an explanation about the insane asylum, but not the murder. Despite these things – I came away from reading the book, still thinking about the characters and what they were doing. It’s one that will stay with you long after the book is finished.