Poor, awkward Florence Darrow. As beleaguered assistants go, she gets her fair share of abuse, but she knows that as the state-schooled, Florida-raised daughter of a single mom, she’s lucky to have landed at Forrester Books, a tweedy Manhattan publishing house. Lacking the sophistication acquired in utero by her pedigreed colleagues, Florence makes up for it with pluck, but she feels stymied. What she really wants to be is a novelist, or more accurately, to try on the life of a big-time novelist, even if her writing talent is questionable. So when she’s offered the job of personal assistant to Maud Dixon, the pseudonymous author of a gigantic literary best-seller who has chosen to remain as fiercely anonymous as Elena Ferrante, Florence jumps on it. She moves into Maud’s house in the Hudson Valley and channels Eve Harrington, absorbing every detail of the writer’s hyper-curated life. However, the brusque, narcissistic Maud is not as easy a mark as Margo Channing—be careful whom you wish to become.
Who Is Maud Dixon? draws superficial inspiration from All About Eve and maybe a dash of The Devil Wears Prada, but Alexandra Andrews’s bigger debt is to The Talented Mr. Ripley. In this case, Florence grabs her chance to assume her boss’s identity when Maud disappears in a watery car accident during a trip to Morocco. Fasten your seat belt, because the ride gets even bumpier as Florence’s increasingly twisted ambitions don’t always match up with her ability to execute them. She’s an almost schizoid combination of insecurity and determination, making it up as she goes along, and is almost pleasantly surprised to discover she’ll stop at nothing. As the novel unfolds, Andrews sheds her influences and arrives at something all her own, meshing keen-eyed satire with the sly unpredictability of a first-rate thriller.
Lisa Henricksson reviews mystery books for AIR MAIL. She lives in New York City