THE THIRD HEIRESS
St. Martin’s Press, Aug 2000
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Jill Gallagher meets the family of her fiancé Hal for the first time when she brings his body home to England for burial. Already shattered by grief, Jill is devastated when the Sheldons do not welcome her, even though she was the driver in the single-car accident that killed Hal. It immediately becomes clear that there is a great deal Jill did not know about Hal, perhaps the most important being Hal’s obsession with a woman named Kate Gallagher who looked very like Jill and disappeared ninety years ago.
Jill becomes convinced that Kate was her great-grandmother. She sets out to discover what happened to her. The whole Sheldon family tries in their various ways to stop her, and they may be as determined as she is. Jill is isolated in a foreign country and needs friends, but none of the Sheldons appear trustworthy. Even if the Sheldons were inclined to trust Jill, from their viewpoint Jill doesn’t appear trustworthy either, as she is found in their private rooms looking at personal material. Edging ever closer to chronic hysteria, Jill makes her accusations against the family public; so someone, or maybe everyone, decides Jill must be stopped at all costs.
It appears that the Sheldon family is so powerful they could get away with anything, but Jill finds that the worst of all possibilities would be that Hal’s exciting cousin Alex is trying to kill her. She wants both justice and Alex, which may be an impossible combination.
The strong point of THE THIRD HEIRESS is the character of Kate Gallagher. We see compelling and believable flashbacks of her reckless vitality, her beauty and overriding passion. We also see her unintentionally contributing to the twisting of her enemy’s mind into something monstrous. The important relationships of 1909 are strongly developed. The weak point is the present day characters. Except for Jill and Hal, every present day character exists to serve the plot, and when the plot veers, so do the characters. They have no inner life to keep them from flipping from enmity to friendliness to whatever other attitude the author needs, to heighten the suspense.
Both the books by Brenda Joyce that I have read are built around an old picture of a mysterious person of the past. It is a good if familiar concept, and I would have liked to see it better handled. I wouldn’t recommend THE THIRD HEIRESS as an introduction to Joyce’s work, but she has many fans who are sure to want to read it.
Aug 2000 Review Originally Published on Romance Communications
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