The Fraud

Books on Tape. Sept. 2023. 12:26 hrs. ISBN 9780593788783. $95. F
Through decades of decline, Eliza Touchet has kept house for William Harrison Ainsworth and continued to edit his egregious prose. She remembers the 1830s, when a backbiting cohort of British literati celebrated Ainsworth almost as much as up-and-comer Dickens. Thirty years later, a new national fixation on the controversial Tichborne Trial intrudes on Eliza’s orderly management of yet another move by her boss to less expensive quarters. The prickly Scotswoman scorns news of the trial until she has the chance to interview a witness for the defense—a supporter of the Australian butcher claiming to be heir to the Tichborne baronetcy, presumed dead. Andrew Bogle, even more than Eliza, has been staunch. He says so in one of the many brilliant character voices that Smith herself performs in this audio adaptation of her latest novel. Performing Scottish Eliza, Jamaican Andrew, and Britons from all social classes, Smith imbues her writing with added authenticity for listeners. She even sings a few bars (applying her jazz background to her sixth novel as deftly as she incorporated a love of dance in Swing Time, her fifth), demonstrating that genuine self-expression pays off, though not for poor Ainsworth.
VERDICT A must-buy audio. Smith’s intricately constructed pastiche of 19th-century British literature, an indictment of cultural hypocrisy, is superb.
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