“What a very odd thing … to live and leave no mark.”
— The English Wife, Lauren Willig
I was really excited to read The English Wife by Lauren Willig. As a gothic murder mystery set in the late 1800s, it seemed like it would be full of mystery, intrigue, and all of the fun stuff needed for a historical fiction thriller. I did enjoy some parts of this novel (particularly ones with Mr. Burke, I think he may have been my favorite character), but it just didn’t do it for me.
The English Wife starts with Bayard Van Duyvil being found with a knife in his chest and his wife, Annabelle, missing. One side thinks Annabelle is a victim and had been drowned by the real culprit, the other side thinks she is the one who killed her husband. With the mystery surrounding this crime, the press is all over the story and Janie Van Duyvil (Bayard’s sister) sets out to find the truth. Janie forms an alliance with James Burke, a reporter hellbent on solving this case, to figure out who killed her brother and what happened to Annabelle.
My biggest issue with this book is the pacing. This book starts out fast-paced with the crime happening right in the first five pages, but then it jumps to five years prior with a character not mentioned prior or in any synopses telling the story. It then continues to jump between 1899 and the years prior (sometimes even in the middle of a chapter). For me, this threw the pacing off. The earlier chapters are very slow and build backstory to of Bayard and Annabelle’s marriage. The chapters that take place in 1899 alternate between slow and fast-paced. Some parts of the 1899 story were about solving the crime and others were building a strange relationship between all of the other characters. Honestly, I felt like I was getting whiplash from how often the pace changed.
Another issue I had with this book was the characters. I didn’t feel connected to any of them. Not Bayard, not Janie, and especially not Annabelle. They didn’t come to life on the page for me. I didn’t even feel any love between the characters. Bayard and Annabelle’s relationship felt forced and confusing. Janie seemed to have no relationship with Bayard which made me really confused as to why she was so determined to solve her brother’s murder. I didn’t understand the purpose of Anne, Janie and Bayard’s cousin, and what part she played other than to make Janie’s life difficult (also, with her name being so close to Annabelle, it just made things even more confusing).
And then there were Bayard and Annabelle’s children. I have absolutely no clue why they were in this story. They added nothing and I mean absolutely nothing. They didn’t make me believe Bay and Annabelle’s marriage more, they were kept in the dark about the crime, and they seemed to just get in the way. I’m not sure what Willig wanted to accomplish with including them, but I didn’t see a point to them.
Overall, I think Willig did succeed in creating a mystery because I wasn’t fully expecting the twist at the end, but this book gets two and a half out of five stars from me. It went on too long and I didn’t really understand the point of this story.