I have been enjoying following Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters series over the last few years and am looking forward to starting the newest book, The Moon Sister, which is due to be published later this year. The Love Letter is not part of that series, though – it’s a reissue of one of her earlier novels, first published in 2000 as Seeing Double under the name of Lucinda Edmonds. As explained in the brief Author’s Note which opens the novel, Seeing Double was not a success on its original release, probably because of poor timing – it wasn’t long since the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and the plot involves a scandal within a fictional British royal family. Lucinda and her publisher obviously feel that enough time has now passed to give the book a second chance and a new look and title.
The Love Letter is set in 1996 and begins with young journalist Joanna Haslam reporting on the funeral of Sir James Harrison, one of the most famous actors of his generation, who has died at the age of ninety-five. The funeral is a star-studded affair, attended by celebrities including Harrison’s granddaughter Zoe, a successful actress in her own right, and his film-producer grandson Marcus. The service has only just begun when Rose, an elderly woman sitting beside Joanna, is suddenly taken ill. Joanna offers to accompany the old lady home in a taxi, unaware that by doing so she is taking the first step in a sequence of events that could destroy the British establishment. Within days Rose is dead, but not before sending Joanna a letter, the contents of which hold clues to a shocking secret that some very powerful people will stop at nothing to keep concealed.
This is a very different sort of book from Lucinda Riley…a combination of spy thriller, mystery and romance. I have to admit, I found the plot a bit far-fetched and not always very plausible, but it’s certainly a page-turner – it was difficult to stop reading until I had found out what the letter meant and what the secret was. I did manage to work some of it out for myself (especially as we are told in the Author’s Note before we even start reading that the story is going to involve members of the royal family), but not all of it, because new pieces of the puzzle are being revealed right up to the end of the novel. For a book with six hundred pages, it’s a quicker read than you might expect and a lot of fun to read too, with some surprising plot twists and characters who aren’t quite what they seem.
Unlike the Seven Sisters novels with their dual timeline stories, The Love Letter is set entirely in the modern day (although events from the past provide the answers to the mystery). Having said that, I suppose 1996 is not exactly the ‘modern day’ anymore and the absence of recent technology from the characters’ lives does set the story firmly in its time period. As for the implications for the royal family, I don’t think people would be too bothered by a novel like this today, but I can see why it might have been controversial on publication eighteen years ago.
I think one of Lucinda Riley’s strengths as a writer is in creating characters the reader can really care about and like – and there are several of those in this novel. I loved Joanna from the beginning; she’s such an ordinary, down-to-earth person with the sort of hopes, ambitions and problems that are easy to identify with. I also liked Zoe, who is embroiled in a secret and possibly dangerous love affair, and I became very fond of her brother Marcus too. The only one of the main characters I didn’t warm to was Simon, Joanna’s best friend, although I did have some sympathy with the internal conflicts he faced in trying to choose between his job and his friendships.
The developments towards the end of the book became a bit too dramatic for me, but I was happy with the final few twists which led to the conclusion I’d been hoping for. I’m looking forward to getting back to the Seven Sisters – I have a copy of The Moon Sister which I’m planning to read soon – but The Love Letter made an interesting change.
Thanks to Pan Macmillan for providing a copy of this book for review.