Fiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse, returns with a compelling novel about the thin lines between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness, all hidden behind the walls of The Dakota, New York City’s most famous residence.
After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility–no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else . . . and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.
In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her -cousin- Melinda–Camden’s biological great-granddaughter–will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in . . . and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.
One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages–for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City–and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich–and often tragic–as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden–and the woman who killed him–on its head.
With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives –and lies–of the beating hearts within.
Bailey is struggling. She is finally out of rehab and about to really get her life together. Not as easy as it sounds. She lost her job as a designer, she has no place to live and she has no money. She falls back on her family…well, maybe not her family by blood (need to read the book!) Melinda, her “maybe” cousin gives her a job redecorating her apartment in the historical building, The Dakota.
This novel follows two storylines, Bailey set in 1985 and Sara set in 1884. Sara’s storyline is essential to following Bailey’s troubled life. I admired Sara. She is tough and hard-working. However, her story is a tale of mistakes which leads to a tragic outcome. The mystery of Bailey’s family past impacts her future.
I adored the setting of this read. The time periods and the historical building make for a very eclectic story. This book is not without problems. There are places where the conversations are stilted or a little canned. Plus, I hated Melinda. And sometimes the plot is a little “too convenient”. However, I am still giving it a five star rating. I loved the history and the mystery. I take great pleasure in a book which has me doing research and I was all over researching this building and the architecture.
I enjoyed many aspects of this read, the mystery of the trunks in the basement, the small historical details about NYC, oh….and don’t forget the insane asylum with the cameo appearance of Nellie Bly. This book is super fascinating and I cannot wait to read The Dollhouse
I received this novel from Netgalley for a honest review.
Reeca, you gave an outstanding review here. I’ve read other reviews of this book and none have convinced me to give it a try until your’s. I am recommending this one to my book club.
You are super!! Thank you. This is a great read!!