Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Paris, 1956. Eighteen year old Daphné may be from a tiny French village, but she knows she’s destined for more. Stepping off a bus into bustling Paris with a suitcase full of her home-made beauty products, she’s ready to do whatever it takes to claim her stake in the world.
London, 2016. Scandalous love affairs and an iconic cosmetics brand have kept Daphné Le Marche in spotlight – but her darkest secrets have never come to light. Now, in her London penthouse, enveloped in her rich signature scent, the Grande Dame of glamour has died.
But not even those closest to her could have been prepared for what came next.
The Last Will and Testament of Daphne Le Marche is the first book I have read by Kate Forster and it proved quite a surprisingly entertaining read. The blurb sounded just up my street as I love books that have a dual time frame with secrets galore abounding. This book is set between London 2016 and Paris and Switzerland in the late 1950's and is a story of heartbreak, scandal and the importance of keeping it in the family. Well so says the tag-line but the more I read the more I agreed with that statement. The one problem I had straight from the start with this book was the cover, it really is in my opinion totally misleading as to the story inside and I think people who enjoy this genre would miss out on a really good story.
On first glance of the cover one would think this was the usual run of the mill chick-lit as you see the girl walking along with the Eiffel Tower in the background and you would be forgiven it's the normal boy meets girl, fall in love, problems and miscommunication ensue and then they get back together but that couldn't be further from what actually happens. I think the story deserves a better cover more in fitting with the themes of the story. It might be in keeping with the other covers from this author but with something different more people would be inclined to pick this book up. It would be such a shame if people missed out because they mistook this book for something else as within a few chapters I was gripped to the story and was pleasantly surprised by the events unfolding really was a story that I hadn't expected and I love discovering a new author to me that can write the way Kate Forster did throughout this book. It had a bit of everything the historical element, glamour, secrets, intrigue, rivalry, hatred, misunderstandings and romance. At times there was a slight swaying into what I would call the bonkbuster genre but it wasn't too in your face, I think the author realised that wasn't the overall tone she wanted to achieve with the book and pulled back a bit.
The prologue opens in 2016 as matriarch of the Le Marche family 80year old Daphne is counting down her last hours in her London apartment. She calls her trusted advisor/personal solicitor Edward Badger into the her room and adds a codicil to her will. This addition will affect all her family members and will cause jealousy, rivalry and upset along the way as some family members fight and show their true side while others work together to achieve one goal. After Daphne passes away the family presume the will will be straight forward and her son Robert will inherit the Le Marche cosmetics business but Daphne was a wise old woman and knowing all the secrets from the past she throws a spanner in the works. She leaves the business to her granddaughters Celeste and Sybilla (Billie) with a condition they must run the business for a year and a day together without any mention of selling. After that period the girls can discover a secret formula discovered by Daphne which could be revolutionary. The only problem is the Le Marche family have become so disjointed, there is a complete lack of unity and some family members are just out for themselves. Some are more evil than others but at the end of the day love, friendship and trust may just have the strength to prevail. I did think initially there were quite a lot of characters to get to know and to work out who you should be really focusing on but as the story developed they were all essential to the plot and if any had been left out the story would have been lacking in some small way.
Celeste is the daughter of Robert and grand daughter of Daphne. She lives in Paris and likes interior design but lacks any real focus in life and has the air of a party girl about her. Her love life recently has caused some national scandal and she is adrift and lacks focus in her life. She struck me initially as kind of an airhead (I hate using that word but that's how she came across) she had been pandered to all her life and could buy whatever she wanted. Yet behind this exterior is a girl who had been affected by events in her childhood and of course the separation of her parents. Celeste was definitely the character who underwent the biggest transformation throughout the book and I liked her by end whereas in the beginning she just seemed someone who breezed easily though life. Presented with the challenge by her grandmother it saw her stepping up and taking control of things and developing her business side alongside some surprising romance.
Billie lives in Australia and works in a lab and harbours a secret crush on a work mate. She has been estranged from her father's side of the family along with her mother Elisabeth for as long as she can remember. Her beloved father Henri left behind secrets and an impression of a man who deeply loved his family but was clearly tormented. I loved Billie she was strong and steady and although she battled initially with the news of her inheritance deep inside her she knew at the end of the day that family is family and no matter how much water has flowed under the bridge that family should stick together. I did think sparks would continuously fly between Celeste and Billie as they were poles apart from each other in every way. It was nice to see a bit of friction and tension as nothing should run smoothly when faced with obstacles and tangled webs from the past rearing their ugly heads. It was nice to see the development between the two girls as the story progressed.
I can't fail to mention the main female character as mentioned in the title Daphne, although she passes away very early on in the book her influence and power is felt throughout the story. But we also go back in time to the 1950's and discover how she went from a poor humble background in the French countryside to a woman who had a cosmetics empire. I loved dipping back in time in between reading of Billie and Celeste's efforts in the present to keep the company going despite Robert's evil ways. He really was the most repulsive, bitter most messed up character and his actions were horrible, deceitful and mean. Reading how Daphne went from nothing to success was interesting and the events ongoing in the past were just as twisted as those in the present. There were so many things that you thought were fact but then the author threw a spanner in the works and kept the reader on their toes and guessing. I felt around just past the halfway mark the story lost it's way slightly as if the author had done all the ground work but wasn't quite prepared to put the scenes in motion that would lead us to the climax of the story. I felt there needed to a bit more emphasis on Billie and Celeste's efforts to find ways to keep the company going instead there seemed to be a mish mash of scenes regarding hidden love and I never knew who was with you. Thankfully the slump passed and we began to race towards an exciting conclusion where everyone's final hand was revealed.
The question remains does the business continue and just what was the secret formula discovered by Daphne that promised so much? Do pick up this book up if you get the chance Kate Forster is a talented writer who I feel hit high and low notes with this book and has proved there is even better things to come from her in the future. Overall I really enjoyed The Last Will and Testament of Daphne Le Marche, there is a good solid storyline that keeps you guessing and characters that are not perfect but flawed and never dull. You wouldn't go wrong spending an afternoon in the company of the Le Merche family and I was so glad I gave this book a go.
Many thanks to Harlequin Uk Via NetGalley for my copy of The Last Will and Testament of Daphne Le Marche to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.