Saturday, September 14, 2013

ARC Review: The Impersonator by Mary Miley

The Impersonator
Author: Mary Miley
Publication: Minotaur Books; 1 edition (September 17, 2013)

Description: In 1917, Jessie Carr, fourteen years old and sole heiress to her family’s vast fortune, disappeared without a trace. Now, years later, her uncle Oliver Beckett thinks he’s found her: a young actress in a vaudeville playhouse is a dead ringer for his missing niece. But when Oliver confronts the girl, he learns he’s wrong. Orphaned young, Leah’s been acting since she was a toddler.

Oliver, never one to miss an opportunity, makes a proposition—with his coaching, Leah can impersonate Jessie, claim the fortune, and split it with him. The role of a lifetime, he says. A one-way ticket to Sing Sing, she hears. But when she’s let go from her job, Oliver’s offer looks a lot more appealing. Leah agrees to the con, but secretly promises herself to try and find out what happened to the real Jessie. There’s only one problem: Leah’s act won’t fool the one person who knows the truth about Jessie’s disappearance.

Set against a Prohibition-era backdrop of speakeasies and vaudeville houses, Mary Miley’s Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition winner The Impersonator will delight readers with its elaborate mystery and lively prose.

My Thoughts: THE IMPERSONATOR was an excellent historical mystery filled with details about Vaudeville, bootlegging, and life in the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s. Leah has been in Vaudeville since she was an infant and has survived alone since her mother's death when Leah was twelve. She has gone from act to act and changed her name to fit ever since. 

But one night, Oliver Beckett comes to her with a proposition that will change her life. She is a dead ringer for his niece Jessie who disappeared at age fourteen. Jessie was the sole heir to the Carr fortune. Now the time of her twenty-first birthday and the seventh anniversary of her disappearance are approaching. Oliver wants Leah to impersonate Jessie, inherit the money, and share it with him. Leah turns him down at first but when she loses her job with her current act and can't find another, desperation forces her to take Oliver's offer. She is in training to become Jessamyn Beckett Carr.

After some quick tutoring, Leah first tries out her act on Oliver's mother who was Jessie's grandmother. Acceptance by her Grandmother and her Uncle Oliver and a story that will be hard for the trustees of "Jessie's" estate to disprove helps pave the way to meeting her aunt and cousins at Cliff House in Oregon. Jessie disappeared while in the care of this family. Her Aunt Veronica was consumed by her husband's last illness and Jessie was left at the mercy of her older cousins Henry and Ross and the teasing of her younger twin cousins Valerie and Caroline.

While learning about Jessie, Leah becomes determined to find out what happened to her. She quickly learns that other young women from the area had been murdered. Because they were poor and Chinese or Native their deaths weren't being investigated very thoroughly. Leah quickly begins to suspect that one of her cousins - either Henry or Ross - was involved. Leah also has to deal with a number of attempts on her life when she assumes the role of Jessie.

This was an excellent mystery. I enjoyed getting to know Leah and could easily empathize with her decision to try for a better life. I liked the period details and the mentions of Vaudeville stars that had later careers in radio and television. Jack Benny plays a key role as Leah's friend. I highly recommend this engaging and well-written novel. 

Favorite Quote:
Mother came to me every night in my dreams, but I wouldn't listen to her. Vaudeville had beaten me down and humiliated me beyond recovery. I couldn't go back for another punch in the face. I wasn't as talented as Mother thought. As I myself had once thought. And I had found work, I argued. I had taken a role in Oliver Beckett's production of She Stoops to Con, and if I played the part well, I had a shot at real money, a comfortable life, and something else. Something money couldn't buy. Suppose they were happy to see me? Suppose I really could take Jessie's place in Jessie's family?
I got this eARC through Minotaur Books' early reviewer program. You can buy your copy here.


  1. This sounds fascinating and suspenseful. I haven't heard much about it but I like the idea of trying to impersonate someone and investigating their possible murder.

  2. OH this sounds like a book I would love. I'm glad that met expectations. It sounds suspenseful and I like the idea of the historical details.


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