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The Best of Times
Synopses & Reviews
In a matter of seconds, absolutely everything can change …
In this masterfully crafted page-turner, peopled with intense characters and centered on one devastating moment that involves them all, plot-twist queen Penny Vincenzi vividly captures how the actions of one person can dramatically affect many in the blink of an eye.
On an ordinary Friday afternoon, on a major motorway outside of London, a trailer truck suddenly and violently swerves across fives lanes of traffic—careening cars into one another like dominoes and leaving a trail of chaos and confusion. Within the space of a minute, an astounding miles-long pileup has amassed, and, as the survivors await help, their stories unfold.
Vincenzi expertly maneuvers the plot between the panic-stricken husband trapped in his car with his young mistress, his adultery sure to be discovered; the bridegroom trying frantically to get to the church on time (he wont); the widow on her way to reunite with the love of her life after sixty years, now forced to ponder whether shell ever see him again; the junior doctor waiting to receive the crash victims in the ER … And at the epicenter of this field of destruction lies the truck driver, suffering from memory loss, while the mysterious hitchhiker, the only person who knows what really happened, has fled the scene.
Spellbound by these intimate and evocative tales, we watch as fate takes its powerful course and the far-reaching effects of the crash ripple through the lives of hundreds of people. Written with incredible verve, candor, and wit, Penny Vincenzi reveals human behavior in all its fascinating detail as she challenges her characters to face crisis boldly—and she surprises us with the results at every turn.
About 300 pages into "The Best of Times," that military song about the field artillery came into my mind and wouldn't leave: "Over hill, over dale, as we hit the dusty trail. ... " But it wasn't until a couple of hundred pages later that I understood why. Penny Vincenzi hasn't been content to write a nice piece of women's fiction. She has deployed an army of fictional troops, and she smacks them around... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) like Gen. Patton. The central trope here is suitably violent: The best way for a lot of people to meet each other all at once is not a wedding or a church picnic but a wingding of a car crash — with blood and guts and injuries and refrigerators and stoves whirling around like the dice of the gods, and about a dozen major characters, unhurt and hurt. I'm going to pass on naming these characters, except for a few, because you couldn't remember them anyway. The heroine here, I think, is a not-posh girl (this novel is set in England) named Abi who occasionally uses drugs and is having an affair with a hotshot doctor named Jonathan, who is married to a fairly priggish woman named Laura. Abi and Jonathan are having a huge fight in his car when the crash — involving dozens of vehicles — occurs. Abi gets out of the car and manages to meet a handsome dairy farmer named William whose property abuts the highway. That's four characters taken care of. There is also a pair of old public school chums who've turned out to be bankers, one decent, one awful, both of them on the brink of marriage; a self-absorbed wannabe actress of mixed blood who will pitch fits throughout the narrative; her hard-driving female agent, who will meet another doctor at the nearby hospital that takes in the many wounded; another female doctor, who will fall in love with the decent banker; and a little old lady of remarkable wit and charm who's on her way to the airport to meet an American tycoon she first fell in love with during World War II. "And those caissons go rolling along." This book isn't half as bad as it may sound so far, just wearying. There are only three truly unpleasant villains: a grumpy grown daughter of the little old lady, who wants to keep her mother from experiencing what may turn out to be the love of her life; Farmer William's scheming mother, who wants to keep her son from experiencing what may turn out to be the love of his life; and the awful young banker, who just decides to be awful one day. None of these people has any particular reason to be bad — that's why they're villains. The rest are portrayed as balanced, even complex. But they're jerked about like yo-yos by their fretful creator. Do something deceitful, do something decent, do something right, do something dreadfully misguided! The plots range from "Will she miss him at the airport?" to "Will he lose his leg?" to "Will he die?" to "Will she get up her nerve to call him?" This last one, occurring in the final hundred pages between the female doctor and the decent banker, is particularly irritating because there isn't a reason in the world for them not to call each other, except that the author doesn't want them to. They do daydream about each other, though: "Her voice was quick and light; she never drawled, and when she smiled ... God, when she smiled. ... And her nose, and the way it wrinkled up when she giggled. He loved her nose." This is way past page 500, and the author has got to get busy winding up pretty soon. But she chooses to keep them all out in the dust, drilling under the sun, just a little bit longer. What can I say? "The Best of Times" isn't just a piece of fluff. Vincenzi is absolutely determined to give readers their money's worth. There's information about theater and television and wounds and sickness and lawsuits. And to end it all, she serves up a grand old English music festival in which almost every character who hasn't died shows up — except for Jonathan the philandering husband, who prudently stays away — to dance under a drenching English rain. (Will this weather clear up? One last plot question.) "The Best of Times" is perfectly OK, interesting even. It's just that it's a little more of a slog than an entertainment. Reviewed by Carolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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On an ordinary Friday afternoon, on a highway outside London, a truck suddenly swerves across fives lanes of traffic, careening cars into each other like dominoes and leaving a trail of chaos and confusion. Within minutes, an astounding miles-long pileup has amassed, and as survivors await help, their stories begin to unfold. There’s the panic-stricken husband trapped in the jam with his mistress, a widow on her way to reunite with her first love, the bridegroom trying frantically to get to the church on time, the young woman going into premature labor, the junior doctor waiting to receive the crash victims in the ER…. And at the center of it all is the only person who knows what really happened, the mysterious hitchhiker who has fled the scene.
With masterful storytelling skill, Penny Vincenzi weaves together the lives of an elaborate cast of characters, exploring their secrets, disappointments, and desires. As the effects of the crash ripple through their lives, as tragedies unfold and secrets are uncovered, as some relationships are ended while others are begun, she demonstrates how the consequences of one small action can change the fates of many, many people in the blink of an eye.
About the Author
Penny Vincenzi is the author of several major bestsellers, including Sheer Abandon. Before becoming a novelist, she worked as a journalist for Vogue, Tattler, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in London.
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