Sunday, 22 July 2018

Emma's Review: The Love Letter by Lucinda Riley

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Keeping secrets is a dangerous game . . .

1995, London.

When Sir James Harrison, one the greatest actors of his generation, passes away at the age of ninety-five he leaves behind not just a heartbroken family but also a secret so shocking, so devastating that it could rock the English establishment to its core . . .

Joanna Haslam is an ambitious young journalist, assigned to cover the legendary actor’s funeral. The great and the good of the celebrity world are there. But Joanna stumbles on something dark beneath the glamour: the mention of a letter James Harrison has left behind, the contents of which others have been desperate to conceal for over seventy years. As she peels back the veil of lies that has shrouded the secret, she realizes that there are other forces attempting to prevent her from discovering the truth. And they’ll stop at nothing to reach the letter before she does.

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Many thanks to Rosie Wilson from Pan MacMillan for sending me a copy of The Love Letter to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Perhaps it was best that at the time of its proposed publication Seeing Double - now titled - The Love Letter never saw the light of day, for Lucinda Riley was forced to step back and take a break from her writing career. She used this time to raise her young family and thus in time she returned with new books written in my favourite genre – historical fiction in turn publishing brilliant books such as Hothouse Flower, The Midnight Rose and not to forget the outstanding Seven Sisters series. Now Lucinda has felt the time is right for The Love Letter to be brought to her loyal readers attention and boy am I glad she made this decision as this book was unputdownable. Long term fans, myself included, will rejoice as this book will fill the void as we patiently, or not as in my case, wait for the publication of Tiggy's story later this year in The Moon Sister.

Lucinda has mentioned that to some extent The Love Letter is a period piece, that if it were set in today’s world the plot would be implausible due to the advent of technology. This didn't bother me in the slightest, I was only glad that I had another book in my possession from this fabulous author who can never do any wrong in my eyes when it comes to writing books that are such page turners holding you in their thrall from the very first word until you reluctantly turn to the last page. This book was no different in terms of that sentiment and I loved every minute of what certainly turned out to be a roller-coaster read packed full of secrets and surprises with every turn of the page. Despite being nearly 600 pages long I didn't feel in any way that the story was unnecessarily prolonged or dragged out. I just wanted it to continue on and on and it's certainly a book where you forget everything that is going on around you. You lose all sense of time and before you know it you look up and find an hour or two has passed and you could have read 200 pages or more. The Love Letter for me without question is definitely another triumph for Lucinda Riley packed full of all the qualities a thrilling and absorbing read should have.

To delve into too much detail regarding the plot of the story would give far to much away. A basic outline of the story will suffice as there are so many complex threads at work with many characters and players intertwined in something much much bigger going on which if revealed will lead to the most devastating of consequences. Lucinda takes her readers on a journey leading them up several paths alongside the main character Joanna only for dead ends and frustration to be revealed. At one point maybe 150 pages or so in I thought hold on a minute too much is being revealed too soon and what could possibly happen next? Instead I soon came to realise that this was just the opening act, the teaser if you like, for all that was to come and I learned just to sit back, relax and enjoy the show and all its various scenes as layers of mystery and intrigue were yet to be discovered and revealed.

It's January 1996 and Joanna Haslam is a journalist trying to work her way up the ranks of the newspaper she is employed by. She doesn't get all the best jobs so when she is tasked with reporting on the memorial service for celebrated actor James Harrison who has died at the grand old age of 95, she feels this will be another run of the mill story not at all testing her capabilities. Little does she know attending this memorial will set in motion a series of events which will change her life for ever. She will pushed to the max, her life will be under constant threat and she will delve into a world that many people want kept secret for various reasons.

At the event she meets an old woman who on seeing someone has a funny turn. Being kind and considerate, Joanna helps the woman back to her house. Her interest is piqued as to what could have upset the woman so much but she leaves it at that. That is until a letter arrives at the newspaper offices and within the envelope is a theatre programme and a love letter from R to Siam. But before Joanna can question the woman as to why she got this letter and what does it mean, said woman is found dead. But is all as it seems?

The start point of a letter left by an old woman may seem very inconsequential to some but Joanna senses there is much more to this than meets the eye. The intrepid reporter in her wants to seek answers no matter what they cost. Little does she realise that the chance encounter will take her on a voyage that she never dreamed possible. What I loved about Joanna is that she never gave up. One could say she was very much out of her depth given the twists and surprises that were revealed with practically each new chapter but there was an inner turmoil driving her on. She had a scent and was determined to follow through until she reached the source, despite the danger she would put herself in.

Yes if she cracked this story it would have been huge in terms of her career and she would have had made a huge name for herself but I got the feeling there was more to this and that she really did become invested both emotionally and physically in the eventual outcome. Initially, I did think Joanna's friend Simon was getting a bit too much focus that surely he was only there as a support to her as she had broken up with her boyfriend. But his character turned out to be an absolute necessity and it showed me that every character had their place and role in this story and that none of them were to be underestimated or were any of them actually what they seemed?

Combined with Joanna on a quest to uncover the meaning behind the love letter is the story of James Harrison's grandchildren Marcus and Zoe. I enjoyed the back-story as to how James played such an important role in their lives but  at first I did wonder how these two would feature throughout the book? Boy did they have prominent roles. Marcus came across as the stereotypical man who had been spoilt as a child and continues to think the world will fall at his feet and if it doesn't his sister will pick up the pieces left behind by his drunken exploits. Saying that he was certainly one character who underwent a transformation in this book and maybe unexpected love could have played a part in that.

I do think Zoe's story plays more than a passing resemblance to a certain couple today. I thought she was very much connected to the past and the feelings she experienced then so much so she continued to cling to them in the present. Given so many years had passed how did she think everything would remain the same? I thought she was walking herself into a trap that would be difficult to get out off but her heart was talking instead of her head. I thought her storyline was incredibly well written and yes some might say not realistic in the slightest but given the quality of the writing and basically a really good storyline that has you reading as fast as you can I really didn't care in the slightest whether this could be true at all. One has to remember at the end of the day this is a work of fiction and the author has the liberties to do what she wants with her characters and plot and Lucinda definitely did this with the tension, suspicion and intrigue racked up with every turn of the page.

The more the story progressed it just got better and better. All of a sudden one little line would leave you gasping out loud as something astonishing and unexpected was revealed and you were left thinking oh my god is this all really happening? So many times I thought I had everything worked out and then boom the story ventured down another avenue. So many red herrings were thrown in and I fell for every one of them. It's only as I raced towards the conclusion the words blurring in front of my eyes so eager was I to discover the ultimate truth, did I begin to have an inkling as to what was so secret that it had to kept under wraps at all costs. I only guessed just as the main character reached that point of revelation. I thought everything was beginning to wrap itself up but then I noticed there was another 100 or so pages left to go. I feared this would be another case of dragging things out and throwing in unnecessary dramas to needlessly extend the book. I was pleasantly surprised this wasn't the case and I was hooked as the curveballs kept coming right up until the very last page.

The line on the cover of this book – keeping secrets is a dangerous game - proved to be true and though some people may think this is too far fetched. I say forget all that, sit back and enjoy all the action, adventure, romance, danger and controversy in what for me was an extraordinary and deeply satisfying read. After a run of average reads The Love Letter restored my faith in that there are still brilliant page turners out there and that without question Lucinda Riley is my favourite author.

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