Review: The Magnolia Palace, by Fiona Davis

OVERVIEW

book cover

Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue, returns with a tantalizing novel about the secrets, betrayal, and murder within one of New York City’s most impressive Gilded Age mansions.

Eight months since losing her mother in the Spanish flu outbreak of 1919, twenty-one-year-old Lillian Carter’s life has completely fallen apart. For the past six years, under the moniker Angelica, Lillian was one of the most sought-after artists’ models in New York City, with statues based on her figure gracing landmarks from the Plaza Hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge. But with her mother gone, a grieving Lillian is rudderless and desperate—the work has dried up and a looming scandal has left her entirely without a safe haven. So when she stumbles upon an employment opportunity at the Frick mansion—a building that, ironically, bears her own visage—Lillian jumps at the chance. But the longer she works as a private secretary to the imperious and demanding Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, the more deeply her life gets intertwined with that of the family—pulling her into a tangled web of romantic trysts, stolen jewels, and family drama that runs so deep, the stakes just may be life or death.

Nearly fifty years later, mod English model Veronica Weber has her own chance to make her career—and with it, earn the money she needs to support her family back home—within the walls of the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums. But when she—along with a charming intern/budding art curator named Joshua—is dismissed from the Vogue shoot taking place at the Frick Collection, she chances upon a series of hidden messages in the museum: messages that will lead her and Joshua on a hunt that could not only solve Veronica’s financial woes, but could finally reveal the truth behind a decades-old murder in the infamous Frick family.

MY REVIEW

Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic Uncorrected Proof of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, the opinions below are my own.

Fiona Davis takes readers to New York City and into the lives of two women making a living from modeling in different eras. While one is struggling to keep her career moving the other is struggling just to start it, and it’ll take a snowstorm to bring them together and solve a mystery surrounding the Frick family.

Six fiction titles into her career, Davis has taken the genre of split-time suspense and made it her own. Here she features the historic Frick family and wraps them into a tale about art and appearances. She doesn’t shy away from Henry Clay Frick’s notoriety as one of the founders of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club in Pennsylvania which owned the South Fork Dam. The failure of this dam caused the Johnstown Flood of 1889. In the Pittsburgh area, Frick is also considered widely responsible for the deaths during the Homestead strike just three years later. His relationship with Andrew Carnegie was consequently strained, and Frick moved to New York City where he built the house at the center of this story. Although he isn’t the main character here, I’m glad to see that these elements of his past were included.

I read The Magnolia Palace in one day, and I loved every minute of it. I didn’t know who was responsible for the mystery and hadn’t picked up on the clues Davis left for her readers. If you love art or art history, I definitely recommend grabbing a copy when it comes out in a couple of weeks.

RATING

5/5

BOOK INFORMATION

Publisher: Dutton (an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)

Publication Date: 25 January 2022

Book Information

Excerpt

FIONA DAVIS

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Fiona Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of six historical fiction novels set in iconic New York City buildings, including The Dollhouse, The Address, and The Lions of Fifth Avenue, which was a Good Morning America book club pick. Her novels have been chosen as “One Book, One Community” reads and her articles have appeared in publications like The Wall Street Journal and O the Oprah magazine.

She first came to New York as an actress, but fell in love with writing after getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages and she’s based in New York City.

For more information, visit https://www.fionadavisbooks.com/

THE SETTING

Frick Collection

The Henry Clay Frick House was built on East 70th St in New York City between 1912 and 1914. Henry Clay Frick had been an avid art collector for decades, and willed both the collection and the house as a museum after his death. He died in 1919. His widow, Adelaide Howard Childs Frick, was able to continue living in the house until she passed in 1931, after which the process begun to transform the home into a museum. Henry’s only surviving daughter, Helen, shared his interest in art and expanded the collection after his death, as well as making a catalog of it. Her work resulted in the establishment of the Frick Art Reference Library in 1920.

The Frick Collection has temporarily moved in order to facilitate restoration of the historic building. Photographs of both the building and the collection can be found on its website: https://www.frick.org/

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