Unlike the author’s debut novel The Other Typist, Three-Martini Lunch doesn’t rely on one somewhat unreliable narrator to tell the tale, instead we see different viewpoints in this story of a set time and a place. The time is 1958, the place is New York and the world is that of writers and publishers. What more could a book-lover wish for? Well if you like a martini, you could always attend the lunches where they were obligatory for anyone invited by those with power.
The first character we meet is Cliff who is passionate about becoming a writer. Sadly, he lacks the talent to match his passion and so despite his father being high up in a leading publishing company, he is yet to become a published writer. Cliff was the least favourite of the characters although as I got to know his back story I wasn’t completely without some sympathy for him, at times.
Eden is a young woman who has moved from the Midwest complete with a letter of introduction from a professor to set her on the road to her ambition to become an editor. Sadly for Eden lady editors are few and far between in 1958 and she has more than the obstacle of her sex to overcome.
Miles is a young man, also a keen writer but he has his colour to overcome as well as some issues even closer to home, with a bully for a step-father and a whiff of scandal about what his father may have done during the war.
On one level this is the story of secrets, betrayal and consequences but somehow that didn’t feel like the ‘point’ of the book. The three characters and how their lives intersected and separated, their personal struggles and the faces they turned to the world, were just as fascinating so that it felt as though we had at least three books in one.
The absolute triumph of the book is the characterisation. There is a whole bundle of issues, but the author resists the old clichés and the main parties are all fully fleshed, real people. Even the secondary characters get attention with Miss Everett the woman who employs Eden at Torchon & Lyle publishing house to become a secretary for Mr Turner, editor, is brilliantly depicted.
With the basement cafes and literary parties where the accommodating secretaries can eat and drink their fill in exchange for acting as waitresses whilst circling the high-powered, or nervous writers, are so well depicted that this is a book that really transported me to another world, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Of course those secrets are never too far from the surface and because as the reader, I was in the know, by the last part there were moments where I felt like I was watching a train crash, the inevitability not serving to dampen the tension but raise it to unbearable levels as I waited to see what everything would look like in the aftermath.
A superb read that was almost saga-like in feel and one in the hands of an author who knows how to set a scene and let it play out. I could almost believe I was present at one particularly memorable Three-Martini lunches where the deal that was done was to have consequences for all involved.
Three-Martini Lunch was my thirteenth read for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 having been bought in September 2017 and as it is my own copy, it is worth another third of a book token.