Thursday, April 19, 2018

Book Review: "The Address" by Fiona Davis

The Address Fiona Davis
Date Finished: March 24, 2018
Date Published: August 1, 2017
ISBN: 9781524741990
Genre: Historical Fiction (Late 19th Century US / 1980's US)
Source: Library
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Historical mysteries, architectural novels, books about New York City

After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility—no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else...and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden’s biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in...and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City—and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich—and often tragic—as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.

My Thoughts; 
One of my favorite things in my reading life is finding that not every author falls victim to the Sophomore Slump.  I read Fiona Davis's first novel, The Dollhouse, when it was released in 2016 and enjoyed it.  While I'm always wondering if the second novel will live up to the first, this one actually surpassed it.

Like her first novel, Davis uses an iconic New York building as not only the background, but also a character.  This time, it is the Dakota Apartments, which is probably best known now for being the site of John Lennon's assassination (which is only mentioned in passing in the more recent story line in this book).  I'm not a New Yorker--I've only spent 3 days there in my entire life, but this was a building I recognized by sight, if not by name, and was immediately interested in how Davis would use it.

There are two story lines going in the book--one set in 1885 when the building opened and one in 1985, which embodies the (ahem!) classy taste of the mid-80s.  Davis blends these two stories together well.  More weight is given to the 1885 plot, which makes sense since it was the more complex of the two stories.  However, I was still interested in the tale of Bailey of the 80's and never felt like I was suffering from literary whiplash when she switched between the two.

The earlier story line, Sara's, is where most of the plot happens, but it unfurls in a way that kept me guessing.  It was interesting because I already knew where it ended (not a spoiler!), but I wasn't ever sure what would happen next.  Sara is an interesting character, and one that I could understand.  She is sometimes blind to the facts and makes a poor decision or two, but it makes sense that she would do so.

Now, Bailey's story was a different experience for me. While I believed that Davis created the world of 1885 for Sara, I knew she created the world of 1985 for Bailey.  It helps that Bailey is an interior decorator so visual details are important to her story.  And, oh boy, are those details dripping with the 80s!  Bamboo walls!  Bright Colors!  Koi Ponds!  I loved how much it all made me (and, luckily, Bailey) cringe.  While Bailey's story is much more straight forward, I still found it a fun romp through a historical period (oy!) that I have lived through.

I really enjoyed both stories and how they wove together.  If I had one quibble, it would be that there was a plot twist that was just too convenient for me to really buy and it led to a bit of a too-clean ending.  This is something that I can accept with little effort, but I still feel that the ending could have been a bit stronger had that been reworked.

If you are looking for a strong historical novel that captures not only the time (or times!), but also the place, this would be an excellent option.  Don't blame me if you start planning a trip to New York City as soon as you finish the last page!

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

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