Fiona Davis's stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City's glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where in the 1950's a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side-by-side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon's glitzy past.
When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren't: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn't belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she's introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that's used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.
Over half a century later, the Barbizon's gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby's involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman's rent-controlled apartment. It's a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby's upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose's obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed.
In 1952, the Barbizon Hotel in New York City was a safe place to live for many young woman who were alone and entering the job market. Darby McLaughlin leaves behind the Midwest to make a career for herself in secretarial school. Due to lack of vacancy, instead of being placed on the floor with other young women pursuing similar careers, she is given space with the models. There she is an outsider, intimidated by the beautiful and assertive models. She does make a friend however. Esme is a spirited woman who takes Darby under her protection and introduces her to nightclub, jazz, and dances!
The story then switches to the modern day. Most of the rooms in the Barbizon are now condos and she lives there with her boyfriend. When her boyfriend evicts her to return to his wife, Rose finds herself house-sitting a dog that belongs to Darby. She stumbles upon the legend and mystery of Esme and Darby and seeks to learn the dark secrets.
Both storylines are very rich with complexity, and growing with conflict as each of the women's struggles become ever more challenging. Tension continually ramps up with each page turned. It's easy to follow both the present and the past storylines without being jarred from the story. As the excitement builds, the ending is unpredictable and satisfying! I loved this book.
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