In the scope of fewer than 24 hours, Clare Morehouse, wife of a British diplomat in Paris, endures more life-altering situations than most experience in a decade. From flower shop to police station, encountering aristocrats and terrorists, Clare plays her role as dutiful helpmate and patriot with dignity and grace. In the course of preparing for a last-minute, but very important dinner party that could lead to a new and prestigious posting in Ireland for her husband, Clare selects the menu, cajoles a petulant chef, supervises housekeeping tasks, reassures insecure staff, agonizes over seating arrangements and orders appropriate wines before leaving her Paris home. Wanting to ensure that the flower arrangements are perfect, though, she visits her favorite florist and en route encounters a man who is later identified as the reported gunman in a terrorist assassination across town. Should she risk her husband’s career by refuting the police and possibly saving an innocent man? Also churning in the back of Clare’s mind is the fear that her husband’s possible transfer to Ireland will lead to the discovery of her criminal past as a student activist in Dublin. Her only consolation is that knowledge that the only person who can confirm her involvement, an ex-lover, is dead. Imagine her terror when she begins catching real or imagined glimpses of him as she runs her errands around Paris. Clare’s serenity is further challenged by a son who has run home from boarding school because of serious problems of his own.
Anne Korkeakivi ingeniously paints a picture of Clare as the unruffled, efficient, gracious, charming and confident hostess on the surface who is battling demons beneath her cool exterior, in a way similar to the duck who appears calm on the surface, but is paddling furiously below the water line. Korkeakivi lets the reader feel Clare’s angst as she fulfills her obligations of the day. She includes informative and picturesque descriptions of Paris and the lives and duties of foreign diplomats, giving the book a feeling of elegance and sophistication. But she balances saccharine civility with harsh images of the less refined days of Clare’s early life. I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to eavesdrop on the world of foreign diplomats and dinner parties while remembering that everyone has secrets and people’s lives are often not what they seem. Clare is a character who lives in memory long after her story has been told.
An Unexpected Guest by Anne Korkeakivi
Read by Ellen Archer
Hachette Audio, unabridged: 8.75 Hours