Leah Randall has been acting all her life, but her talent for timing, impressions, and improvisation will be put to the test. Success will mean more money than she can count, while failure will mean prison, perhaps worse.
After seeing her vaudeville performance twice, Oliver Beckett is convinced that Leah is in fact his long lost niece Jessie Carr. The resemblance is unmistakable. No one knows what had happened to the girl who disappeared seven years ago, but if she turns up by her 21st birthday, she’ll inherit the family fortune.
Perhaps Leah is not Jessie, but all the same, Oliver persuades her that with his help, she can convince the family and the fortune’s trustees’ that she is truly Jessie. Of course, Oliver will expect his share, enough to sustain his appetites for the rest of his life.
Well prepared by Oliver’s lessons on Jessie’s life, home, and family, Leah journeys to San Francisco to meet with the trustees, then live at the Carr family home, Cliff House, at the very edge of Dexter, Oregon. The new Jessie overcomes suspicions, reuniting with her family as though she had never left. But one family member is not convinced at all. Then the bodies of strangled women begin appearing.
The Impersonator is superbly written, transporting the reader to 1924 with expert, passing details such as the “four pans of oxalic acid” to keep bugs out of beds, the contemporary attitudes on race and women, and the yet-to-be-famous faces. A delightful peek at the days of vaudeville and life during Prohibition, the novel moves along nicely, maintaining the mystery of the true Jessie’s ultimate fate, and concluding with a smashing finish.
This debut novel is a personal pleasure, as I have read Mary Miley’s early drafts of it. I am thrilled to read its published, polished, and justly-laureled form.