The Impersonator

Although in her 20s, Leah works as a teen dancer in vaudeville until the family act breaks up. With no other options, she takes a job from “Uncle Oliver” — who wants her to impersonate his long-lost niece Jessie, sole heir to millions of dollars (which means even more in 1924) and missing for almost seven years.

It seems mostly harmless, a way to share the inheritance, although Oliver has secrets of his own and, Leah suspects, a mean streak. A series of accidents and coincidences start her wondering about who might not want Jessie found after so long. Much of The Impersonator takes place while “Jessie” is staying with her family of cousins, an aspiring politician, a studious academician, and sheltered twin sisters.

This historical novel is a real page-turner, hard to put down thanks to Leah’s likable determination. I loved the setting and the writing, which provides enough detail to keep the reader grounded in the era and characters without wandering away with itself. The dialogue is snappy without cliches or trying too hard.

I appreciated the way the different social circles were highlighted, with the plight of theater people and “foreigners” (such as the knowledgeable Chinese gardner) pointed out, as the upper-class folks look down on them while hiding their own unsavory acts. Mary Miley has clearly done her research, to the point of including a list of YouTube links showing vaudeville acts in a postscript.

I saw The Impersonator described as a mystery, and there are a couple of murders and various threats, but I’m not sure anyone could figure out the happenings. Instead, I just rode along, watching as more was revealed and eager to find out the truth. I admired the way the resolution took care of loose ends in surprising but satisfying ways. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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