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The Magnolia Palace


The Magnolia Palace

In 1919, Lillian Carter can’t walk down the street without seeing her likeness looking back at her or staring elegantly off into eternity. Lillian, also known as Angelica, is a highly sought-after model in New York City. After her mother passes away from the Spanish flu, her grief takes over and the modeling jobs dry up.

When she finally does rouse herself and the fog of her grief starts to lift, Lillian manages one modeling session only to realize that the work is no longer as enjoyable as it once was, especially without her mother helping to guide her. With no opportunities on the horizon, her financial situation gets worse. After an uncomfortable run-in with her landlord, she finds herself on the street and wanted by the police for questioning when the landlord’s wife turns up dead.

"If you like a little family drama and a mystery tossed together with a smattering of art history, this is a lovely book to keep you company for a weekend."

While sitting outside of the Frick mansion, an employee confuses Lillian for someone who is there for an interview to be the private secretary to Helen Frick, the daughter of Henry Clay Frick, the wealthy steel magnate, philanthropist and art collector. Lillian heads inside, hoping for a cup of tea and the right moment to explain that she’s not a secretary, but ends up taking the position instead. She tells herself that it’s just for a few weeks. The job will keep her hidden from the police and give her a chance to earn enough money to leave New York for good and make a new life for herself far from the city.

Veronica Weber lands in New York in 1966, an aspiring model who is hopeful that her newfound career --- which she can chalk up to a unique haircut and not necessarily an interest in modeling --- will alleviate some family money troubles. She primarily wants to bring her sister back home and take her out of the care facility where she currently resides. When a snowstorm shuts down the city, Veronica becomes trapped in the Frick mansion after the modeling job she was there for goes downhill. Locked in with Joshua, the intern who was working late that day, the two uncover clues to a scavenger hunt.

A story of the past unfolds in the future as Veronica and Joshua find clue after clue, trying to determine who Lillian Carter and Mr. Danforth were and how and why they both disappeared. They also begin to wonder if the magnolia diamond --- rumored to have been lost by the Frick family but was never reported missing to the police --- will make an appearance. When Helen Frick herself shows up, Veronica and Joshua find themselves on a hunt for Lillian and another employee of the Fricks with the promise of finally solving a mystery that has plagued the family for decades.

I love how Fiona Davis manages to effortlessly slip through time with her stories, leaving you to wonder what will happen next; at the same time, you’ll be just as happy to check in with her other characters. The way she integrates the history of the Frick family and the mansion makes it feel real in both timeframes, so you never feel lost or off-kilter when the time shifts. It’s truly a lovely way to tell the story of an amazing building and the individuals who inhabited it.

THE MAGNOLIA PALACE is a family story at heart. It unfolds slowly, weaving a dramatic tale of love, heartbreak, redemption and new beginnings. If you like a little family drama and a mystery tossed together with a smattering of art history, this is a lovely book to keep you company for a weekend.

Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on January 28, 2022

The Magnolia Palace
by Fiona Davis