August brings not only the annual excitement of the Saratoga season, but the thrill of welcoming a book by a new local author. In addition, there is a first-time historical novelist whose new book provides a fresh look at a much-reviled royal mistress.
David Klein of Delmar has a debut novel – Stash – that is set in an upscale bedroom community located (presumably, although it isn’t explicitly stated) outside of Albany. Gwen and Brian are a young couple with two children enjoying a comfortable life. Gwen is a stay-at-home mom who shuttles her kids all over town, while Brian is a rising executive at a recently bought-out pharmaceutical company whose practices might not bear close examination. As the book opens, Gwen is on her way to meet her former employer/lover, Jude, to pick up a bag of pot (hence the title). She isn’t really a stoner, but she and Brian and the kids are taking a long-awaited trip up to their Adirondack cabin, and Gwen wants to be able to relax and reconnect with Brian since his job has been keeping him preoccupied for months. Jude is a man with problems of his own. He is a single father of a teenage daughter, trying to run a restaurant and make sure he can cover his daughter’s college education costs; thus, his little side business of dealing drugs. When Gwen calls him to see if he can help her out he hopes that she is also interested in resuming their former relationship. After their unsettling meeting, Gwen takes the baggie to Thacher Park and rolls and smokes half a joint. When she gets an expected call that she has to pick up her children, enough time has passed that she feels fine to drive. Unfortunately, on her way home, an elderly man veers into Gwen’s lane while she is blinded by the sun, and he is killed. When the cops find marijuana on Gwen, they are determined to throw the book at her because of their zero tolerance policy. The consequences of that accident resonate throughout the book. Should Gwen go to jail? How much loyalty does she owe Jude who did her a favor? Brian’s concerns are more prosaic—he wants to keep his wife out of jail and preserve the family life he has worked so hard to achieve. Unfortunately, his company might come under scrutiny for marketing a possibly dangerous drug for off-label purposes, and he needs to clean up that mess before it gets out of control.
I really enjoyed this book, not just because I recognized the location (although that was fun!), but because it raises interesting questions about legal drugs versus illegal drugs and private indiscretions versus public wrong doing. Klein has done an excellent job of illuminating the hidden corners of the main characters’ psyches and I look forward to reading his next novel. Bonus: Stash is published as a paperback original, so you don’t have to indulge in a hardcover!
The King’s Mistress by Emma Campion is a first-rate historical novel set in 14th century England. It presents the life of Alice Perrers, mistress of Edward III, from her undistinguished girlhood as a wealthy merchant’s daughter, through her brief, happy marriage to Janyn Perrers, through her time as lady-in-waiting to Queen Philippa, from which station she was plucked to be Edward’s long-term paramour. In most historical fiction I’ve read, Alice is presented as a venal, self-serving woman out to take all she could get from the king and his treasury, but in Campion’s tale, she emerges as an obedient daughter, wife and subject whose constant refrain is: "When had I a choice to be other than I was?" The author is the world’s foremost Alice Perrers scholar, and this knowledge makes the narrative shine. If you enjoyed Katherine by Anya Seton, give The King’s Mistress a try!
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.