At some point, I lost track of how many times Penny Vincenzi used the word "perfect" in the opening section of ANOTHER WOMAN, her most recent novel to be published in the United States. The weather was perfect. The venue was perfect. The guest list was perfect. The dress was perfect. And, most importantly, the wedding of Cressida Forrest to Oliver Bergin would be absolutely perfect. No doubt about it.
"[A] good story is timeless, and Penny Vincenzi certainly knows how to tell one that will keep readers savoring this guilty pleasure from the first page to the last."
But, as the day of the wedding dawns (perfectly, of course) and the bride is nowhere to be found, the perfect façade that Cressida and Oliver (not to mention the rest of their friends and families) have constructed around themselves starts to crumble away. In the wake of Cressida's disappearance, secrets and betrayals that everyone has hidden for years start to come to the forefront.
There's Cressida's father, James, for a start. He has never really loved his wife and has maintained an affair with one of their closest friends for the entire duration of their marriage. But when a health crisis threatens his mistress, both of them discover that their efforts at secrecy might not have been as effective as they had always imagined. James, a gynecologist, also has a professional skeleton in his closet, in the form of a single horrible delivery 20 years ago, which he botched thanks to the alcohol he consumed before heading to the hospital. Now the baby who survived that ordeal is all grown up, a guest at the wedding, determined to take revenge on James for ruining her mother's life.
Cressida's older sister, Harriet, also has some secrets of her own. She's always seen herself as the second-rate sister, less beautiful and, well, less perfect than Cressida. Harriet is known as the plucky one, with the intellect and sharp tongue to make a name for herself. Which she has, with a clothing design business that is, by all accounts, successful. That is, by all accounts except for Harriet's own; only she knows that the business is thousands of pounds in debt and about to fold. The one man who could help her is the one she could never ask: a massively wealthy secret former lover who broke her heart and whose relationship with her she would never divulge to the family.
These are just a few of the secrets that unfold, both through contemporary action and flashbacks, in the two days recounted in ANOTHER WOMAN. Although the mystery of Cressida's disappearance is ostensibly the central focus of the novel, at some point that question takes a backseat to all the other dramas that play out in this social circle. Cressida's erratic behavior is never quite adequately explained --- her motivations don't seem justified by her circumstances --- but, in the larger scheme of things, readers won't mind so much when they get to spend time unraveling the lurid secrets of millionaires, supermodels, adventurers and playboys.
ANOTHER WOMAN, which was originally published in the UK in 1994, seems almost a product of an earlier time; it's interesting to imagine how much differently the disappearance plot would unfold if the characters had ready access to cell phones and email rather than printed letters, slips of paper and fax machines. But a good story is timeless, and Penny Vincenzi certainly knows how to tell one that will keep readers savoring this guilty pleasure from the first page to the last.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 19, 2012