Bestselling historical fiction author Natasha Lester is back with her sixth foray into the genre and it’s safe to say that her star is continuing to rise. Once again returning to World War Two-era France, Lester’s latest novel is The Riviera House, a multiple timeline romance and adventure story of art, espionage and war. This new offering is sure to delight existing fans of the Perth-based writer and win her new ones alike.
In the 1940s, the story follows Eliane Dufort, a young art student who has to compromise on her dreams of studying art history in order to help make ends meet at the family brasserie. Her father drinks away most of the business’s profits, and with five daughters and a son to support, what money is left over never goes far.
When an old friend of Eliane’s brother Luc, Xavier Laurent, reappears in their lives, his affection for Eliane leads him to help the family in whatever way he can, and he and Eliane fall deeply in love. But the Nazi invasion of Paris disrupts everything and brings tragedy to the Duforts, and danger to those wishing to protect the artworks housed in the Louvre.
The lovers are separated. When they meet again, everything will have changed.
In the present day, Remy Lang escapes her own recent tragedy and goes to live in a house on the French Riviera she inherited from her birth parents. Grieving the loss of her husband and daughter, Remy wants nothing more than to be left alone with her vintage clothing business to keep her busy. But when the family holidaying next door introduce themselves, Remy is forced to assess whether she can really keep herself away from the world forever. And then when the handsome oldest son of the family, fashion photographer Adam Henry-Jones, uncovers a wartime catalogue of stolen Nazi art that includes a portrait Remy has seen hanging in her own home back in Australia, the two are drawn together to work on a mystery more that is more than sixty years old.
This latest novel from Natasha Lester bears all the hallmarks of her style, from its sumptuous description of clothing and fashion, to the lovingly researched details of wartime Paris. Whilst, once again, her heroine is a strong woman whose actions have a big impact, but whose story (if she were real) likely would have been omitted from the history books.
Lester has thoughtfully built a sense of the peril that Eliane faces as a woman in occupied Paris, and gives the reader some insight into why some women who were seen to collaborate with the Nazis might have done so. In the attempt, she has created sympathy for a type of woman who has historically been painted as a villain. Her characters feel rich and realistic, and their love stories are worth getting wrapped up in. Be warned though, reader – it seems that Natasha Lester’s love scenes are growing steamier by the book!
In the mark of an accomplished writer, Natasha Lester also makes good use of her multiple timelines to draw the reader almost breathlessly through the book. Just as a big discovery is about to be revealed in one timeline, the point of view switches to the other. This makes the book a fast, engrossing read, despite the fact that it comes in at almost five hundred pages.
The novel is well-plotted too, with the majority of the twists, turns and reveals proving extremely satisfying. I did feel, however, that the pace sped up at the end of the book, and the conclusions to each story were more sparse than the sections preceding them. This could be in part due to the darker themes at the end of the historical timeline. Readers who have read other novels that explore similar themes (such as Code Name Verity and The French Gift) may be able to extrapolate but for readers who are just starting out in this genre, this aspect of the ending might prove a tad frustrating.
All that being said, I found myself close to tears as I read the final pages of this book, and I have no qualms about saying that Natasha Lester just keeps getting better. I loved this book and would heartily recommend it to anyone who loves rich settings and exciting stories about the kinds of history you don’t learn in school. The Riviera House is like The Monuments Men crossed with Code Name Helene and it is glorious!