Fatal Inheritance by Rachel Rhys is a mystery set in the South of France three years after the end of World War Two. This is a glamorous place of sun and colours and beauty but which hides wartime shade and recriminations, canker beneath the luxury and smiles.
When Eve Forrester receives a solicitor’s letter promising ‘something to her advantage’, she leaves her husband in England and travels to Cap d’Antibes. Clifford disapproves of her journey, he thinks it inappropriate, a waste of time, doubts the veracity of the will of this mysterious Mr Guy Lester who Eve does not know. But Eve defies her husband and goes anyway, curious, listening to the inner voice which tells her there is more to life. This is a novel where you want to shout to the heroine, to encourage her onwards, to have strength to take a new path.
Eve inherits a part-share in the Villa La Perle at Cap d’Antibes, near neighbours are the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Eve, in her ‘make do and mend’ clothing, is thrown into a glamorous social whirl of people she finds awkward, dismissive and arrogant. Rhys draws a layered picture of society where obvious wealth may hide troubled finances, make up and lipstick covers bruises, and smiles hide venom. It is a place where the locals avoid people and businesses which ‘helped’ the German occupiers, where memories of the war are fresh. In the middle of this, Eve struggles to understand her inheritance while delaying Guy Lester’s family from signing papers to sell the villa. And all the time, Eve wonders what Clifford is doing at home, knowing he disapproves of her being there, knowing he worries about the cost.
An entertaining novel in a beautiful, flawed setting – neatly mirroring the flawed people – not quite suspense, not quite a romance in the conventional sense. Rhys writes about women particularly well, not just Eve but the housekeeper Mrs Finch, actress Gloria Hayes, and fellow tourist Ruth Collett. I liked Eve, disliked her husband, and chuckled when the ‘love interest’ switched between surly to over-attentive. If I have one query, it is the solution to the mystery which comes rather out of left-field and left me feeling a little cheated. The ending, though, is unbelievably poignant. A great beach read.
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