Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: The Address

Summary: Fiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse, returns with a compelling novel about the thin lines between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness, all hidden behind the walls of The Dakota—New York City’s most famous residence.

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.

With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives—and lies—of the beating hearts within. -- Dutton

One of the books I was most excited to receive at this year's BEA was THE ADDRESS by Fiona Davis. I had thoroughly enjoyed her first novel THE DOLLHOUSE, and I really appreciated how Ms. Davis blended modern day and past stories while also weaving a terrific mystery. In addition, I loved how she brought the Barbizon Hotel for Women to life, almost making it another character in its own right!

Sometimes when I like a book so much, I'm almost afraid to read the author's next one. I'm sure you know what I mean -- it juts might not live up to my expectations. However, I am thrilled to say that I found Ms. Davis' second novel THE ADDRESS to be highly entertaining. This time, she tells the stories of two women, separated by 100 years, who both live in The Dakota, the Upper West Side apartment building widely known as the home of John Lennon and the place where he was assassinated. Once again, there is also a compelling mystery at the heart of the novel.

It's 1885 and Sara Smythe is an Englishwoman who is hard at work trying to become the head housekeeper of a swanky London hotel. Her fortunes change one day when she saves the life of a guest's young daughter. After that, Theodore Camden is very impressed with her and wants her to come to New York to work at the state of the art apartment building that he's designing. Needless to say, she jumps at the chance to be the manager of The Dakota... and for a better life in America.

Fast forward to 1995 and Bailey Camden, an interior designer, is just getting out of rehab for her drug and alcohol problem. Despite her grandfather being the ward of Theodore Camden and his wife, Bailey has no money because her grandfather wasn't a blood relation and, therefore, didn't inherit any money... and also because she blew everything she ever had on her party girl lifestyle.

Bailey's cousin, Melinda, though, gains to inherit the family fortune; and she asks Bailey to redo her lavish apartment in The Dakota. With no other options, Bailey accept the offer despite having issues with Melinda's tacky taste. As Bailey is working on the renovation that is basically eliminating all of the historic elements of the apartment, she also starts to think about the building's past including the murder of Theodore Camden by a crazy woman named Sara Smythe. When she discovers some trunks in the basement, Bailey really begins to delve into this mystery and, in the process, learns some shocking things about her family's past!

I loved THE ADDRESS and I can guarantee that fans of Ms. Davis' first novel THE DOLLHOUSE won't be disappointed. There are many great things about this novel, but I particularly love how the author created stories surrounding two very different women divided by 100 years while also linking  their lives with one interesting mystery. The novel has a little bit of something for every reader. At it's heart, this story is a mystery but it's also a great example of historical fiction... and there's even a bit of romance thrown in!

At first glance, I didn't think Sara and Bailey had all that much in common. Of course, I could see that these two women's lives where somehow connected through Theodore Camden; however, one was a lower class woman from England and the other was a girl living the fast life in Manhattan. It actually ended up that these woman had some similar themes running through their lives. Of course, both women lived in the opulence of The Dakota, but they each were struggling to fit in and find their places in their respective worlds.

As far as mysteries go, I liked the one surrounding Sara and Bailey's stories. I knew there had to be more to the story than a "crazy" Sara killing the man who offered her a job and a new life in America.  However, I also knew fairly early on that there was something off about Bailey's heritage too. I wouldn't say I was necessarily surprised by how Bailey's story was resolved, but I did find the truth behind Sara's life to be pretty interesting.

I also really loved all of the history woven into the story, especially the parts about the history of The Dakota. Ms. Davis, once again, did a wonderful job of bringing life to the building; and I honestly count the posh apartment building as another character in the story. She also included enough famous people and stories into the book to keep fans of historical fiction happy.

I think THE ADDRESS would make a fantastic book club selection. I know my friends would love it! There is a reading guide with eleven thought provoking questions along with a recipe for a Manhattan  -- one of my favorite cocktails. Some of the themes you might want to explore include secrets, family dynamics, wealth, addictions, recovery, class structure, and mental illness.

All in all, I loved THE ADDRESS and highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction and mystery!

I received a copy of this novel at this year's BEA.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I do like interwoven stories like that so will have to check this out!

Kim@Time2Read said...

I read this one as an early release and really enjoyed it. My copy didn't have disussion questions, so I'll have to take a look at those. I agree with you — it will make a great book club selection!