Romance, vaudeville and mystery

A review of The Impersonator by Mary Miley

In 1917 fourteen-year-old Jessie Carr disappeared from her Pacific Northwest home near Portland. She's the heir to the vast Carr fortune and if she is not found before her twenty-first birthday, now only months away, the fortune will be dispersed to other relatives. Now her uncle, Oliver Beckett, thinks he's found Jessie when he sees her performing on a vaudeville stage. The problem is the young woman insists her name is Leah and though she is the spitting image of Jessie, Oliver soon realizes his error. Though she is not Jessie, Oliver has a back-up plan. And thus begins Leah's life as The Impersonator.

Leah has grown up on the vaudeville stage. Her mother was a singer and since she was a child, Leah has performed. A lucky thing, since her mother died when she was twelve and Leah was left to fend for herself. Over the succeeding years she has moved from town to town and act to act, using her young looks to continue as a child actor on the stage. But her luck is running out. She's aging out of the child performer business at the age of twenty-four and her prospects are dim. When Oliver first suggests that she impersonate Jessie, she turns him down. It would be wrong and possibly land her in jail. Getting sick and losing her last chance at a job changes her mind. She accepts Oliver's offer and is soon being trained in the role of a lifetime, that of returned heiress Jessie Carr. Leah is a natural actress and her impersonation is so good, even Oliver sometimes questions the truth. Once installed at the family home, Cliff House, in Oregon, Leah is playing a waiting game. Jessie's birthday is weeks away and Leah only needs to keep up the impersonation until then. Once she has the money, Oliver will take his share and Leah/Jessie can decide to travel in Europe; never to be seen again.

But fooling strangers is a lot easier then fooling people to whom you've grown attached. As Leah gets to know the family, she decides the plan may not be as victimless as she'd hoped. Partially to assuage her guilt, Leah starts to investigate Jessie's disappearance. Where could a fourteen-year-old go? And does her disappearance have anything to do with the murders of several non-white women in the area? And does the person who may have been responsible for Jessie's disappearance plan a repeat performance with Leah?

I really loved this one. I love historical fiction set in the 1920s and that this one took place in the Pacific Northwest made it even more interesting. The combination of vaudeville, mystery and a little romance was a winner and though I'm not sure how Miley would do it, I'd love to read a sequel.