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.
I loved the author’s debut The Dollhouse, which I discovered on the OverDrive App last year, and couldn’t wait to listen to this. While The Dollhouse is set in 1950s and present day New York, this book goes back to the 1880s and 1980s New York.
I was vaguely aware of The Dakota Building, probably like most people because of John Lennon’s murder, but didn’t know anything else about it. The history of the building was very interesting and it must have been an exciting time in the city’s history.
I must admit that I preferred loved the 1980s storyline far more than the 1880s one, even though I was intrigued by the lives of the different people living and working at The Dakota during this earlier time period. I found the 1880s story dragged a bit for me in the first part of the book and I found I couldn’t wait to get back to the 1980s storyline.
The mystery part of the story was really good, keeping me listening to find out what exactly had happened to Sara all those years ago. There were some good twists and turns that really did keep me guessing.
The narration was brilliant for both time periods. The reserved tones of Saskia Maarlveld for the 1880s were perfect as she brought the women and men of that time period to life. Brittany Presley’s more upbeat voice similarly worked really well for the 1980s. I loved her spoilt voice for Bailey’s “cousin” Melinda, perfectly bringing to life the extravagance and exuberance of the yuppies of the decade.
I definitely recommend this if you enjoy historical fiction with a dual time line. I can’t wait for the author’s next book The Masterpiece which is all about Grand Central Station.