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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Barbara Taylor Bradford's Playing the Game

Playing the Game by Barbara Taylor Bradford ISBN 978-0-312-57808-4
Published by St. Martin's Press
Hardcover, $27.99
I can vividly remember reading Barbara Taylor Bradford's first novel,  A Woman of Substance,  back when I was in high school. Her heroine, Emma Harte, was a brave, strong protagonist, a woman who could overcome anything and run a huge department store, while navigating the tricky waters of romance.

I read many of Bradford's subsequent books, but I haven't read one in awhile. Bradford has been a successful author for over 30 years, mostly by sticking to her formula of strong female characters overcoming the odds through hard work and strength of character, and adding in a forbidden romance.

Her latest novel, Playing the Game, sticks to the formula. Annette Remington is a successful art dealer in London, married to a much older man. She becomes famous for selling a long-lost Rembrandt painting at auction, and soon the entire art world knows who she is.

But Annette has a secret from her past, one that her husband knows of and has used to keep control of her. Bradford weaves tidbits of Annette's disturbing past, expertly piquing the reader's curiosity about the truth. We know that Annette and her sister Laurie were the victims of violence in their childhood, and that Laurie is now in a wheelchair. Is the secret related to their childhood? And why does Annette panic when someone comes looking for a woman named Hilda Crump? All these questions keep the reader turning the page.

While I found the novel to feature typical characters in a familiar plot, with a beautiful woman keeping a secret while falling into forbidden romance, it is the setting that elevates this novel. I found the art world totally fascinating, and Bradford does a marvelous job immersing the reader into that world.

One of the most compelling reasons that I read is that I can learn about something I never knew before, and this book is filled with interesting facts about fine art, art restoration and art forgery. I learned that a priest hole is a small room in old homes where, during the Stuart period in England, aristocratic Catholic families hid their priests when the soldiers came to search the houses. I never knew that before, and now I have new cocktail party conversation.

Playing the Game comes at a good time; many people are talking about Steve Martin's novel, An Object of Beauty, and this is a good companion book for those looking to continue their immersion into the world of fine art.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

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