If you have ever wondered about the social responsibilities of diplomats’ wives, this is a novel that will give you a taste of their often chaotic lives.
Claire Moorehouse, her husband, Edward, and her two teen-aged sons, live in Paris. Edward is second in rank to the ambassador at the U.S. embassy.
Her life gets complicated without warning when an embassy dinner scheduled for the next evening gets switched from the ambassador’s residence to Claire’s home because the ambassador has contracted pneumonia.
The dinner will be a huge challenge, but it’s also an opportunity for Edward to be sized up to see if he is ready for an ambassadorship opening in Dublin. Edward has plenty of diplomatic experience; he has served in Lebanon, Kuwait, Cairo, London and Washington, D.C. But now everything is on the line.
Claire’s household includes a cook and a housekeeper. She will have to enlist the assistance of others to carry off the perfect dinner party in less than 24 hours.
Not only do the food and flowers have to be perfect, Claire will have to choose wine, borrow the embassy plates and take care of endless other details.
Claire seems to be handling things superbly, but underneath her calm demeanor, she is worried about the appointment to Dublin.
When she was in college, she did something that could jeopardize her husband’s career. Claire fell in love with a smart and manipulative IRA organizer named Niall. He asked her to pretend that she was pregnant, and they taped thousands of dollars to her belly under padding to make her look pregnant. She flew from her home to the designated spot in Ireland and handed the money over to support what he had told her was a noble cause. She was supposed to meet Niall after the transfer, but he never showed up and she never saw him again. Only then did it occur to her that she had been used. Later she met Edward, they started dating and eventually got married.
Claire’s dinner preparations are not without distraction. While shopping for just the right cheeses and asparagus, Claire thinks she spots Niall, but wonders if it is only her conscience worrying about the past. Then Claire’s younger son gets sent home from boarding school. She wants answers about why he was suspended, but she only has a few hours to get everything perfect for her dinner party.
Then two additional names are added to her guest list, and Edward tells her that things at work have been chaotic because a French parliamentarian was shot that morning at Versailles, putting all the embassies and their staffs on alert.
When the suspect’s photo is shown on television, Claire recognizes him as a man she had helped earlier that day find a doctor while she was out shopping. The shooting at Versailles occurred at the same time she was helping the man, so she realizes that he couldn’t have shot the government official.
If she tells the authorities that their prime suspect could not have been in Versailles when the shooting occurred, it would take up valuable time, spoil her dinner party and possibly wreck her husband’s chances for the promotion. If she calls her son’s school right away to find out what happened, that, too, could interfere with the dinner.
Adding to her tension is the nagging worry that maybe she really did see Niall earlier in the day and that he might reappear in her life.
Remarkably, all these crises get resolved in a little over a day. In the meantime, the book takes the reader to various sections of Paris and a number of shops, offering a glimpse of a fascinating city.
Anne Korkeakivi was born in New York. She has lived in France and now lives in Geneva with her husband and two daughters.
Maggie Braun is a teacher at Manhattan High School.