Title: The Mulberry Tree
Author: Jude Deveraux
Nutshell: When James Manville, emperor of a billion dollar corporate network, died, he left his widow nothing.
That’s not entirely true. He left her a ruined farmhouse, fifty-thousand dollars, and a note, saying, “Find out what really happened for me, Frecks?” But the billions of dollars, the twelve luxury homes, the yachts and planes and extravagant cars he left to his horrible brother and sister.
Lillian Manville adored her husand. He was her whole world. Now, crucified by the media, nearly penniless, and with no practical skills to speak of, she has to figure out how to survive, support herself, and possibly investigate whatever her late husband wanted. If that weren’t enough, the tiny town nearby is full of odd characters, formed by the aftermath of events surrounding six boys a generation ago, the Golden Six.
Readalikes: I’m going to say Midnight in Austenland, since both are about women in bizarre circumstances finding themselves at the end of a marriage, and hit very similar emotional notes. If you have a better title, drop it in the comments!
This was recommended to me, and apparently it’s a very well known book. I hadn’t heard of it here in my sci-fi bubble, but I found it deeply fascinating. I’ve watched enough CSI-type shows to find the elements familiar, but I definitely wasn’t expecting them to happen in this framework. I had thought, from the cover, that I was getting a romance, or a literary-fiction piece at best. But this was neither, really.
It had romance, but the romance was a dash for seasoning. (I prefer this.) It had the literary sort of emotional turmoil, but without feeling melodramatic, haughty, or oily. It combined a journey of self-discovery and a generational mystery in a very intriguing, readable way.
The character of Lillian was fascinating to me. She was internally consistent, but appeared self-conflicting in the way she blended her tendency to be absorbed by the people around her with her iron determination. The other characters didn’t seem to understand why she would be so timid and yet so set on her ways, but from inside her viewpoint it seemed perfectly reasonable. And great fun to ride along with. It was also fun to watch that determination blossom as Lillian began to take charge of herself.
After the initial hook and shock, the book didn’t slow down and let Lillian get complacent or bogged down in her internal miseries. Some people from town visited, and almost immediately began matchmaking. Lillian was timid at first, but then, hilariously, shocked the ladies by agreeing to marry the man in question as long as he fixed up the house for her.
I thought she was joking, and would hire him, but that was followed by another uproarius scene. The man in question, one Matt, had a bit of the gourmet in his palate, and, desperately sick of his sister’s basic supermarket box food, was so attracted by Lillian’s cooking that he suggested he room with her in exchange for the handyman work. Lillian didn’t gasp or swoon or suspect him of trying to take advantage of her; she bargained herself a sweet deal by which he paid for food and rent as well as doing the building work.
The whole book was a series of slightly surprising responses, all perfectly supported by the characters making them, but creating a web of intrigue that completely drew me in.
A word to the wise: You might want to take notes. Besides the “present day” cast (a novel’s worth) there is also a “past cast,” and a couple of false names. By the end, it started to be confusing, following who was whose son with whose wife claiming to be whose brother. It got to be like a Shakespeare play. I let myself just get lost, and found myself pretty satisfied at the end, but if you’re not happy with that, just be aware that the names and relationships get pretty snarled right at the end.