Book Review: City of Fortune by Victoria Thompson
Elizabeth Bates, nee Miles, is looking forward to a day at the races with her beloved lawyer husband Gideon and her just as cherished mother-in-law. Sebastian Nolan, a client of Gideon’s, is running a horse in the Belmont Stakes, and is hoping to use the opportunity to introduce his own daughter Irene to some ladies of quality. Elizabeth has her misgivings, being less a society lady than a reformed con artist herself. But genteel Mother Bates insists Elizabeth is the equal of any of their peers, and assures her Irene could hope for no better friend in navigating the often treacherous world of the moneyed in 1920s New York City.
Despite Sebastian’s disparaging remarks as to his daughter’s charms, the Bates family all find Irene both lovely and refreshing. Raised on her father’s farm, Irene’s interests lie mostly with the racehorses they train and breed. Sebastian assumes this singular focus on horseflesh is the reason the 23-year-old has never had a suitor. It doesn’t take the Bates family very long to realize, however, that Irene and the Nolans’ lead jockey Cal Regan are madly in love—and that Sebastian would be furious if he found out.
When a terrible accident befalls Cal on the racetrack, leaving him in jeopardy of never being able to race again, Elizabeth and Mother Bates are stirred to do something to help the star-crossed lovers start a new life together, even before it becomes apparent that foul play was the reason for Cal’s injuries:
“I’m sure [Cal] hasn’t had time to think about all of this yet,” Elizabeth said. “He just had surgery and he’s hardly even been awake more than a few minutes at once, but I’m also sure Irene has been thinking about nothing else.”
“Poor thing, she must be frantic,” his mother said.[…]
“Yes, it’s a difficult situation,” Gideon said, “but it’s really none of our business.”
The two most important women in his life gave him another pitying look.
“But we hardly know them,” Gideon added, already sure that his protests were futile.
“One thing I’ve learned from the Suffragist movement is that women are always at a disadvantage in this world, and we need to help each other whenever we can,” Elizabeth said, earning an adoring smile from her mother-in-law.
Elizabeth has a proven track record when it comes to misleading the greedy and mean in order to set things right, and she’s more than ready to facilitate the transfer of money from the people who ended Cal’s career, and nearly his life, to the victim himself. But Cal is a proud man who refuses to accept anything that looks like charity, complicating matters severely. In order to ensure that he and Irene come into the money they need to get married, Elizabeth will have to recruit not only her grifter father and brother but an acquaintance of her dad’s, a beautiful new entry to New York City society who goes by the name Paulina.
At least, that’s the name Paulina uses with Elizabeth and any others privy to her true career. To everyone else, she’s Senora Paulita Padilla y de la Fuente viuda de Chavez, a Spanish widow locked in an inheritance dispute with her late husband’s brother. Paulina is ready to fleece the many rich people looking to “assist” an impoverished widow by offering extravagant loans at extortionate interest rates, and thinks she can incorporate Elizabeth’s schemes into her own. Elizabeth is pleased to find Paulina so sympathetic to her plans, even as she’s surprised at Paulina’s indifference to the suffrage movement that originally threw Elizabeth and the Bates family together. Paulina says:
“Oh yes, I have read about that, but I do not understand why women want to be involved in politics. Such a sordid business.”
Elizabeth had to smile at a con artist criticizing another “sordid business.” “We believe that women will have an uplifting influence once we win the right to vote.”
Paulina shrugged this off as well. “I think you will find that uplifting politicians is very heavy work.”
As the women plot to give Irene the happily ever after she deserves—a far cry from the simple society introductions Sebastian once dreamed of—they’ll encounter setbacks and obstacles as tricky as on any race track. Will they be able to stay the course and provide Irene with a sporting chance at happiness?
Every installment of the Counterfeit Lady series is even more charming than the last, as this sixth book proves. Elizabeth and her family, by blood or marriage, are all intensely likable, as they perform end runs around the legal niceties in order to make sure justice is served. The sense of sisterhood is strong throughout, as these very different women come together to uplift the least fortunate of themselves. City Of Fortune often felt as if Dick Francis and Edith Wharton had had a wonderful literary baby, but is very much a Victoria Thompson original, full of humor and heart and whip smart wit throughout.