Playing Mrs Kingston is set in 1950s New York, and tells the story of Catriona Benedict, an actress with ambitions. To the dismay of her boyfriend, she agrees to play the role as the wife of Miles Kingston, a rich playboy, in exchange for a fat fee. Miles Kingston needs to find a wife so that he can claim his inheritance. This is the starting point for a tale of glamour, intrigue, envy, family drama, murder and tragedy for the Kingstons – with Catriona at the heart of it, getting far more than she bargained for.
Playing Mrs Kingston is an engaging debut novel by Tony Lee Moral, which gets better as the book unfolds. Catriona Benedict is no modern female hero, but taken in context of the days of the American Dream, she shows strength and passion. It took me a while to warm to Catriona, who initially came across as shallow. Miles Kingston, the character with strength and power, clearly thought she was malleable – and therefore this is where the reader takes their cues from. It was only later in the book that Catriona showed some guile and character when the story unfolded.
Moral writes a compelling story, and the suspense builds and builds as the body count rises. This makes it more than a mystery, more than a thriller, and certainly a ‘just one more chapter’ book. It is a clever plot, with an antagonist who is psychologically well developed. I thought that the killer was the most rounded of the characters, and wished that Moral had given more space to explore Catriona and her rather unconvincing boyfriend, Mario in similar vein. It is hard to understand why Catriona remained with the surly Mario, particularly when Freddie appears. Mario felt more threatening than exciting to me, with that bubbling edge of violence.
Moral’s writing took as many twists and turns as the plot. Playing Mrs Kingston is a third person narrative, but from multiple viewpoints, therefore allowing the reader into the experiences of characters other than the protagonist, Catriona. The dialogue was strong, as would be expected from a film maker, as was Moral’s ability to convey setting – Moral made it easy to believe that you were in 1950s New York. At times the writing was cinematic, and very compelling. At others it was a little clunky. The detailed description of every new character, and frequent references to what they were wearing took me away from the story. When the ‘action’ unfolded, this level of detail slipped away, which made for a much more fluid reading experience.
Perhaps my greatest beef with Playing Mrs Kingston was the book cover. I would not have picked it up on the basis of the cover, which suggests a rather flowery romance. It is not! Playing Mrs Kingston is very much a ‘Hitchcockian’ thriller, and would have suited a black and white, book jacket with a cinematic feel.
Overall Playing Mrs Kingston is a beguiling story that gains pace. It was ultimately a highly enjoyable, satisfying read.