Leah Randall is a talented but impoverished actress who has worked on the vaudeville circuit her whole life. During the course of one performance, she notices a strange man watching her intently. Eventually this man, Oliver Beckett, approaches her with an astonishing proposal. He tells Leah the story of his niece, Jessie Carr, heiress to a substantial fortune, who vanished from her home several years ago without a trace. Leah bears a striking resemblance to Jessie, so Oliver proposes a scheme: Leah will pose as Jessie and return “home” to claim her inheritance, which she will then split with Oliver. At first Leah wants nothing to do with it, but when she is fired from her vaudeville act and can’t get other work, she eventually reconsiders. With Oliver’s help, she assumes Jessie Carr’s identity and travels to the Carrs’ home in Oregon. But the more time she spends with the Carrs, the more she becomes determined to discover what really happened to Jessie all those years ago.
If you read that plot summary and thought, “That sounds an awful lot like Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey,” well, you’d be right. The premise is exactly the same — Miley even acknowledges that Tey’s novel was the main inspiration for her own — but I enjoyed Miley’s novel in its own right. I especially liked the period details about vaudeville, speakeasies, and other highlights of life in the 1920s. There were even references to some Supreme Court cases of the era, which I appreciated as a law school survivor. I also liked Leah’s narrative voice: she’s plain-spoken, independent, and very aware of both her talents and her flaws. The thing is, though, Brat Farrar is still by far the superior book. Miley’s novel is a bit disorganized at times, including several subplots that are more distracting than intriguing. I also hated the romantic aspect of this book; it was unbelievable and underdeveloped. I did enjoy the book overall and found it very readable, but if the premise sounds interesting to you, you should really just read the original instead!