Author Fiona Davis is known for her historical fiction novels set in famous buildings in New York City. The Magnolia Palace was the nickname for the Frick mansion that was built by industrialist Henry Clay Frick to house his art collection. He bequeathed the mansion and art collection to New York City after his death to become a museum.
While a teenager, Lillian Carter, had been an artists’ muse. Known professionally as Angelica, she was the first super-model, with her face adorning many famous sculptures and paintings. Now at age 21, her prospects are drying up. When Lillian’s mother dies from the Spanish flu, her unscrupulous landlord tries to seduce her. Things go astray, and Lillian must quickly escape in order to avoid questioning by the police. By chance, she finds herself at the Frick Mansion, where she is hired to be Helen Frick’s personal secretary. Helen is the 31-year-old eccentric daughter of Frick and his sickly wife. Frick offers Lillian a large bonus if she can help Helen get engaged and be married to Richard Danforth by the end of the year. Things get very complicated when Mr. Frick becomes ill and a valuable gem, known as the Magnolia Diamond, mysteriously disappears.
Fast forward to 1966, a young British model, Veronica Weber, is offered the chance to be in a Vogue photo shoot that starts at The Frick Collection. When something upsets her, Veronica ends up hiding in a secluded room that houses pipes from the organ. There she stumbles across a series of clues that had been written by Helen Frick for Mr. Danforth. When a snowstorm shuts down the city, Veronica finds herself locked into the mansion, along with a young intern. The two set out to find the remaining clues. Along the way, Veronica discovers the Magnolia Diamond. Knowing this diamond would secure her financial future, she grapples with what to do about the discovery.
Fiona Davis quickly draws the reader into the world of the mansion and its glorious art. The mystery of who stole the diamond and perhaps committed murder is intriguing. The dual timelines work well together.
4.5-Stars. Book Club recommended. Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Group, Dutton for my advanced reader copy. Also thanks to author Martha Hall Kelly whose high praise of this novel encouraged me to read it. This novel will be released on January 25, 2022.