My Wicked Little Lies
Zebra, $7.99/$4.96 digital, Jan. 31, 2012
Evelyn Hadley-Attwater has it all — a genteel Victorian life replete with loving husband, ball gowns and elegant parties. No one, including the man she married, suspects that she was once “Eve,” a spy for England’s most enigmatic intelligence agency. Summoned for one final assignment, the excitement of her former life and memories of her mysterious, flirtatious boss “Sir” prove too tempting... Adrian Hadley-Attwater is a respectable, dignified gentleman. But even the most proper gentlemen have secrets of their own. Secrets from the rest of the world, from their families, from their wives. Secrets that have a price. Now, as a veil of secrecy frays, a tantalizing game of cat and mouse will test the bounds of unfailing love...
As an old-fashioned letter writer, I appreciate a good epistolary relationship. One of my favorites, just for the sheer ingenuity and uniqueness of it, was Nick Bantock’s illustrated novel, Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence. And though Victoria Alexander’s new English Victorian romance, My Wicked Little Lies, is different in its execution, I found myself drawn to the similarly cultivated relationship.
Alexander’s tale weaves a lively romantic mystery with a respectable, dignified gentleman, his daring young wife…and a whopper of a lie between them.
Meet Adrian Hadley-Attwater, head of the Hadley-Attwater family, and his lovely, genteel wife, Evelyn. They’re happily married, deeply in love, active in society: the very model of propriety and respectability.
And now meet Eve and Sir. They most likely have quite a bit in common with Adrian and Evelyn, if any of them were so inclined to admit the truth. Eve and Sir have spent five years working together, and during the whole of their relationship their only communication has been through mysterious, flirtatious, written missive.
We learn from the beginning that Evelyn and Eve are one and the same. And in her parting letter to the mysterious “Sir,” we get a glimpse into her true, candid impressions.
I have only one true regret, Sir. I wish we had met, just once, face to face. I confess, I have often thought of that, wondered if I would know you the moment I saw you. Or recognize the sound of your voice. Silly, of course, as I have never seen you nor heard you. But through the years I feel I have to come to know you although, in truth, I know nothing about you at all.
But once Evelyn departs the service of her country and marries Adrian, who she really, truly loves, she is happy to move forward. Married life in general is blissful for the two, yet two years into their marriage, Adrian begins to notice a slight distraction in his wife.
“Could his wife be feeling the same sort of restlessness gripping him of late? The need to do something. Anything. The desire for the unexpected, for a touch of excitement. The odd longing, for once, not to know what was going to happen next.”
And ain’t that the truth? Who wants to be predictable? Staid? Reliable? … gasp!
Certainly not these two. These two are the Chuck and Sarah of Victorian England. Helen and Harry Trask from True Lies have nothing on Adrian and Evelyn. Did I mention they’re spies? Perhaps you can imagine why predictability would be so upsetting.
She gave him a quick kiss then gazed into his eyes. “Darling, if I had wanted a warrior or a savior or someone, oh, I don’t know, a man of adventure, I would have married someone adventurous.”
“And I’m not adventurous?” he said coolly, although the comment was annoying.
“No, of course not. You’re reliable and responsible and dependable and honorable.”
He stared down at her. “Good God, I sound dull.”
Her eyes widened. “But you’re not, not in the least. You’re the most fascinating man I know.”
“In a reliable and responsible sort of way?”
Not at all,” she said staunchly then paused. “Well, perhaps. But you are the kind of man one can depend upon. Not merely in times of crisis but each and every day.”
Oh, bother! Can’t you see Adrian sighing with relief and doing the happy dance. Dependable and honorable … he doesn’t want to be a Volvo. He wants to be a Ferrari.
But when Evelyn is approached for one last mission as her alter ego “Eve,” spy extraordinaire for England’s Department of Domestic and International Affairs, she has no choice but to return to her previous position, particularly since she has no intention of her husband discovering her secret.
The mission? Recover documents that reveal the structure of the Department and the secret identities and safety of the individuals involved in it. The risk? Actually, it’s pretty minimal for Evelyn since she’s nowhere to be found in the file.
“The only reference to you is to Eve and that is minimal. When you left the agency, all records regarding your true identity were expunged.” He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. Obviously this was a point of some annoyance. “At Sir’s orders.”Her heart jumped at the code name of the agent she had worked with for five long years. A man she never met in person, who communicated with her only by written word. Who guided her, issued her orders, and yes, on occasion, saved her.”
Are you keeping up on the lies front? Because when you tell one lie, you’ve got to tell another one to cover it up. And then another one, and then another one. It’s a vicious circle. Here we have a secret agency with secret agents, with a woman secretly taking a last assignment, with a secret leader called “Sir” pulling the strings from the background. Hmm …
The story is broken into four parts—Part One: Lies of Omission; Part Two: Deception; Part Three: Ruse; and Part Four: Revelation—to help keep the secrets in order. But I will admit that my favorite part is the third, the ruse. I am a true aficionado of retribution, and though only good could come from two people who love each other (even when they’re apart), this ruse is a good one.
There’s a bit of a cautionary tale in here…perhaps it’s that you shouldn’t keep secrets of a major caliber from your partner. Then again, perhaps it’s that you shouldn’t end an epistolary relationship before getting a good look at the person on the other end of the quill.
Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and in the spring of 2012, her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.