Just a year after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, author Lucinda Riley started work on a novel set within a fictional royal family.
The book, Seeing Double, barely saw the light of day. Riley, then writing as Lucinda Edmonds, had been warned that the subject matter would not be ‘liked’ by St James’s Palace and in the run-up to publication, promotions and PR events were inexplicably cancelled.
When her publisher then cancelled the contract for her next novel, Riley was condemned to years in the ‘wilderness’ while she raised her family, but two decades later – and with a string of fabulous bestsellers to her new name, including the phenomenally successful Seven Sisters series – Riley has resurrected and reworked the novel.
And what a thrill ride it is… a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse through lies and love, secrets and subterfuge, deception and danger as a young and ambitious newspaper reporter is drawn into a decades-old web of scandal at the heart of an acting dynasty and what is (most definitely!) a fictional royal family.
When Sir James Harrison, one the greatest actors of his generation, dies at the age of ninety-five in London in 1995, he leaves behind not just a heartbroken family but also a secret so shocking and so devastating that it could rock the English establishment to its core.
Yorkshire girl Joanna Haslam, a young journalist working on a top-selling national newspaper, is assigned to cover the legendary actor’s funeral. The great and the good of the celebrity world are there, along with Sir James Harrison’s grandchildren, actress Zoe and would-be film producer Marcus.
But Joanna stumbles on something dark beneath the glamour when she goes to the aid of a frail old lady called Rose who is taken ill during the service. Rose is in possession of a letter that the actor has left behind… a love letter that, the old lady tells her, contains ‘a story that must be told.’
What Joanna doesn’t yet know is that others have been desperate to conceal the contents of this letter for over seventy years and searching for the truth will be highly dangerous.
As Joanna becomes closely involved with both of Sir James’s grandchildren, she begins to peel back the veil of lies that has shrouded the secret and realises there are powerful people out there who will stop at nothing to reach the letter before she does.
The Love Letter is a truly multi-faceted story… there is mystery, action, espionage, romance and menace aplenty as intrepid newshound Joanna battles hidden and potentially deadly enemies in her determination to dig out the truth behind the tantalising letter that still speaks volumes seventy years after it was written.
Riley’s labyrinthine plotting takes us from a busy newsroom and the streets of London to the glamour of a film set and the tight security of a royal residence as intrigues in both the past and present are slowly and shockingly revealed.
Masterful storytelling and imaginative power are the trademarks of Riley’s novels and this 600-page epic delivers a full-throttle escapist adventure with an extraordinary cast of unreliable characters, a right royal mystery and surprises at every turn.
An intriguing change of direction from one of our best-loved authors…
(Pan, paperback, £7.99)