Williams, Willig and White, three bestselling authoresses who write historical adventures, romances and mysteries, have teamed up for the third time to write a wonderfully rich novel with a through line of the Paris Ritz. Being a hotel brat myself, I enjoyed this method of tying the novel together. It has three separate storylines, each focused on a different woman – one in 1914, one in 1942, and one in 1964. In the two earlier storylines, there’s a woman who lives in a suite at the Ritz. She’s the first character’s mother and the second character’s grandmother. The tie the third woman has to the first two is more tenuous and is one of the mysterious threads of the novel.
In each thread, the elegant Ritz stands as a beacon of glorious civilization, populated by the kind of service people who give exquisitely polite and perfect service and then fade into the background. It’s the touchstone for all the characters as they jump off into life or come back to the Ritz for comfort.
Aurelie, in 1914, finds herself bored with her mother’s salon of poets and novelists and after she drops her boyfriend off at the front, she takes off to the family castle in the French countryside. Through all the story threads, there’s a fabulous talisman – some might call it the McGuffin of the novel – a jewel encrusted bauble covering a remnant of cloth soaked in Joan of Arc’s blood. The legend is that if the Demoiselle de Corcelles (which is Aurelie and in a later iteration, Daisy) holds the talisman France cannot fall.
The Germans are up close and personal in Aurelie’s story, requisitioning her family castle and taking all the food and supplies from the surrounding village. The Germans of 1914 don’t seem that different from the Paris occupiers of 1942, where we find Daisy, Aurelie’s daughter, married to a boring functionary who is tight with the Nazis. She finds herself pressed into resistance work and love ultimately makes her reckless.
The third woman, the recently widowed Babs, lives on a beautiful estate. She’s incredibly lonely and when she gets a letter asking her to meet an American at the Ritz in Paris to attempt to discover the identity of La Fleur, the famous French resistance fighter, she agrees, more or less surprising herself. This third segment of the novel is the lightest in tone, and Babs, clad in tweeds and brogues, is immediately taken under the wing of a stylish American named Precious and given a complete makeover.
All three stories have a serious love element, often a forbidden one, and the tension and heartbreak of wartime France is beautifully illuminated by the three authors. There’s a love of history, of setting, and of character on the part of the writers that thread the book together as much as the Ritz Hotel does. This is a gloriously entertaining novel, one to sink into on a long winter’s night.