Penny Vincenzi writes a sizzling read, full of split-second timing, lost chances, second chances, surprises, miracles and old-fashioned bumbling that keeps readers on the edges of their seats.
The Dilemma is no exception.
It is her debut novel, and it shows signs of where she will take us with The Lytton Trilogy and Sheer Abandon. It's not my favorite, but it still is a superior novel (even if it should have been more judiciously edited).
I wanted to like it more — but I had a problem with Francesca, whom I found shrill, immature, spoiled and unable to handle life. I had no sympathy for her and thought her unlikeable. I also found it completely out of character: a woman who can successfully run a PR office can't handle her own personal life and some of the difficulties that come along with it. She hates secrets, but she has her own — and she gets mad at her husband and mother when they have their own secrets.
Having said that, Francesca was perfect for this story.
Francesca is an independent woman who, in a way that is completely a mystery to her, becomes a woman of leisure and mother of two — plus stepmother to four others of varying ages (including one contemporary). Her very wealthy husband Bard is much older than she (and I keep picturing him as Asa Buchanan from the daytime drama series "One Life to Live.")
Asa — I mean Bard — has issues of his own. He's a very important, busy business tycoon who plays everything very close to the chest. He doesn't get along with any of his children once they get to an age where they can't be "handled." He barely gets along with his partner, and he certainly doesn't get along with his partner's wife. He has asked (if one can portray his "request" as such) Francesca to not have a career of her own. He needs her to manage his home life and to be available for him. It's a sacrifice Vincenzi's characters make over and over, and it is always fraught with peril.
The prologue of The Dilemma finds Bard asking Francesca to give him an alibi for a particular day. The story then drops back to a few years before the fateful question, so we can see how the story progresses.
Vincenzi weaves multiple storylines with a wide array of characters, and all are fascinating and integral to the story. There's Liam, the eldest son from Isambard's marriage to his first, and most beloved, wife; then there's Kirsten, the eldest daughter from his second, very unsuccessful marriage. Bard's mother Jess is the only one who can speak frankly and be heard by her son.
We also meet a few "outsiders" to the Channing clan who have insider's views of the family: Oliver, son of Bard's late partner and excruciatingly decent; and Gray, a finance reporter who has no intention of covering Channing's company until the whiff of a great story lures him into the fray.
The long and winding road that leads us to the end of the story is worth the trip. Pick up a copy of The Dilemma and enjoy the scandal and intrigue that only Penny Vincenzi can create.