Formats available: Trade paperback, ebook
Length: 324 pages
Date Released: December 12, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository
The Roaring Twenties crumble into the Great Depression, but Virginia Kingsley, New York’s toughest and most successful speakeasy owner, is doing just fine. Now that the world is falling apart, bootlegging is a flourishing business, and she’s queen of that castle.
Then her infant nephew is kidnapped. Her niece, Laura, and Laura’s philandering movie star husband, are devastated. The police have few leads, and speculation and rumors abound in the media circus that follows the celebrity abduction.
Only one reporter, Erich Muller, seems to care enough about the child’s welfare and the parents’ feelings to report the case responsibly. Over the course of the investigation, Erich Muller and Laura fall in love, but their relationship is doomed to failure since he suspects her beloved aunt Virginia is behind the kidnapping. Laura, jaded when it comes to men, sides with Virginia.
But Virginia has figured out the truth, and she can’t tell anyone for fear of losing her niece’s affections and having the police ransack her life. So she pursues her own investigation, shaking down, threatening, and killing one petty crook after another during her search.
Little Todd’s absence shapes everyone’s lives. When he is finally found, the discovery will bring disaster for some and revelation for others.
There’s something about “The Roaring 20’s” that continues to fascinate, even nearly a century later. The styles still look incredible cool, for one thing. The sleekness of Art Deco has become instantly recognizable.
Ms. Tibaldi evoked the era so completely that I half expected Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot to step out of the pages and offer to solve the case. The 20’s were, after all, his time, and this type of upper-class affair would have been just the sort of thing to exercise his “little grey cells”.
But the case it reminded me of most was the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932. The 20-month-old son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, was kidnapped in May of 1932, and later found murdered. This case resulted in the Federal Kidnapping Act, the law which makes it a federal crime to transport a kidnapping victim across state lines.
When I started the story, I wondered how much the kidnapping in Willow Pond would resemble the historic crime. Thankfully, not at all.
Instead, Willow Pond looks at another memorable historic law of the 1920s–Prohibition. We romanticize the speakeasies and laugh about “bathtub gin”, but Prohibition also brought about the rise of Organized Crime to transport the illegal booze that everyone still drank.
In Willow Pond, four lives intersect. Laura Austin’s life is turned upside down when her son is kidnapped. It seems that this should be her story, and it somewhat is, but only somewhat. In the aftermath of the terrible devastation wrought by the limbo of her missing child, Laura finally grows up. She completes her separation from her self-absorbed actor-husband, Philip Austin.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, Laura turns to Erich Muller, the crime reporter sent to cover the sensational story. Their relationship draws his investigative reporter skills in to pursue leads long after the police have let the trail run cold.
Virginia Kingley is Laura’s aunt, and the woman who raised Laura after her mother died. However, and most important, Virginia is part of the underworld. She runs a speakeasy called the Bacchanal, and she runs booze with the big boys. Her love affair with the Police Commissioner gives her the clout to keep her life from being investigated, but it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be.
Because Laura is caught in the middle between her need to defend the woman who raised her, and her lover’s certainty that someone in Virginia’s shady life had something to do with the kidnapping. All the trails seem to lead back to Virginia Kingsley, where every investigation gets blocked. Laura sides with her aunt. She may have come to love Erich, but her narcissistic bastard of a husband taught her that Virginia is much more trustworthy than any man.
It’s just too bad that Erich is right. Because that fourth life in the intersection…is her child’s kidnapper. She doesn’t want money. She just wants a child of her own.
And Todd just wants his mommy.
Escape Rating A-: I stayed up until 3 am to finish Willow Pond. I was so caught up in it that I couldn’t wait to find out how it ended.
Two things about Willow Pond that I found captivating were the 1920s setting and the kidnapping mystery itself. The author did an excellent, absolutely marvelous job invoking the feel of the 1920s. Poirot or Lord Peter Wimsey would have seemed right at home in this mystery.
The tension of limbo that the “not knowing” had on Laura was intense and very well-done. I felt for her pain and loss. Also the whole suspense of where the kidnapper and Todd were and the chase for them was definitely a thrill-ride.
One part didn’t work for me and that was Erich’s incredibly shabby treatment of his wife at the end of the story. This was not a romance, so I was not expecting that kind of happy ever after. But if Laura and Erich were going to get one, then Erich’s rebound marriage to Jenny seemed an unnecessary bit of pathos to this reader.
All in all, Willow Pond is a fantastic evocation of the 1920s with their glamour, scandals, and crimes.
As part of the book tour for Willow Pond, Carol Tibaldi and Pump Up Your Books are giving away one (1) trade paperback copy of Willow Pond to one lucky commenter.