I admit I just finished reading this yesterday. Actually I started it the night before, and finished it the following morning. The story wasn’t earth shattering. It wasn’t heart pounding suspenseful. It was intriguing, disturbing, and overall, surprising. I can’t remember reading anything of Ms. Roth before this title. Her output was limited, but the books she wrote were well received. Interesting point–the plot of one of her novels involves a drowning death off a boat, which is how she ultimately died–with her body never recovered. Hmm. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Whatever really happened to Holly Roth aside, Shadow of a Lady sneaked its way onto the list, just at the point of my revamping. The first two chapters are written in the third person, but the voice is Laura Selby, an American woman traveling alone across Europe to Italy at the suggestion of her British fiance, John, who is trying to extricate himself from a marriage. She stubbornly decides not to travel the main routes across France to Geneva Switzerland, but consult her maps and go from little town to little town. And during the lovely sunlit afternoon all was romantically French, with wine, food, and easy traveling. By late afternoon her petrol is low, there are no longer towns or villages along her route, and night is fast approaching. She barely passes though Switzerland’s checkpoint, where the elderly guard suggests she coast down the mountain until she hits the town far in the distance. During these short chapters, you are drawn into her minute to minute story, and snippets of conversations between her and her fiance that she references in memory. You like her. You are routing for her safe arrival. So, it comes as a shock when the last sentences of the second chapter reveal her falling over the mountain with her car following. Rushing on to the next chapter, the reader is left dangling regarding her fate, as a trunk is delivered in a tiny English town, enclosed within a decomposed body of a redhead, same size, shape and color eyes as Laura, who has been missing for a month or more. A circumstantial case starts building against her lover, John, as he refuses to admit that the body he sees is hers. Others who knew Laura, positively identify her. He was heard arguing with Laura before her trip, and as she has vanished, no trace of her found on the major highways en route to Geneva, it is thought John killed her and disposed of her body in the trunk, which was accidentally shipped.
As John struggles to keep his anxiety in check, and at the same time defend himself, the reader is in suspended animation regarding Laura. We are left to wonder–is she the woman in the trunk? Did she survive the fall and later killed by someone? Did John reconnect with her, and during a quarrel kill her? Could the body be of someone unknown, some chance lookalike and justice is about to be miscarried? And if the body isn’t Laura’s then was she killed in the fall, and will her body be found?
The best aspect of the book is the reader’s affection for Laura, despite her absence during the greater part of the story. You are invested in the characters to the point that you hope they will live happily ever after, but ominous undertones cause just enough mistrust and anxiety, that one reads on and on for relief. Whether relief is granted, is the real suspense of the novel.