Notorious by Olivia Hayfield – 2022

Should Emma Snow persist with Rowan Bosworth, a dark and troubled Heathcliff, living a reclusive life on the Yorkshire moors? Or should she stay with Henry Theodore, a clean-cut Bingley, “a fully signed up member of the rich and powerful”. Her sensible side wonders if she should marry Henry, but she has been infatuated with Rowan since she was a young girl. Emma can’t help but feel that if she could just get through to him, he could well turn out to be a Darcy.

Notorious comfortably references literary heartthrobs, and is a great romantic read. It is the third in Hayfield’s series of reimagining Tudor history in modern settings – first there was Wife after Wife, reinventing Henry VIII, then there was Sister to Sister, with Elizabeth I and her half-sister Mary Tudor. Notorious looks at Richard III and the mystery of the princes in the tower. When Emma’s young brothers Elfred and River go missing, Emma investigates and Notorious becomes a murder mystery, with more than a dash of Austen and Brontë.

Emma, Rowan, and Henry are all writers. Emma’s first encounter with Rowan is when he is a wunderkind whose re-write of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so spectacular Emma’s father Teddy, a famous actor, performs in it. Emma, a girl at the time, goes with her family to the performance, and is entranced by Rowan. She is interested in writing and decides to enter journalism. When Emma meets Henry, through a family connection, he is writing for the Lancaster Post. She gets a job on a London paper, focusing on environmental issues, then moves up to Yorkshire where Henry has become the editor of a paper owned by his mother.

Linking all three aspects of the plot, romance, history, and mystery, is biased and sensationalist media reporting, and how destructive that can be. Emma is the daughter of celebrity royalty – as well as her father being a star of stage and screen, her mother Belle is a rock star. Emma has grown up in a scandalous household, always under the media spotlight. When her two brothers go missing from the school where Rowan is a teacher, it is front page news, and Rowan is quickly judged guilty by the media, and by Henry. Rowan is driven into seclusion, and Emma into a determination to prove his innocence.

Henry is the type most people warm to immediately, he is fair, handsome, charming, speaks ‘well’, and is connected. Rowan is more difficult, he is dark and handsome, but taciturn, writes on bleak themes, and is the type people love only once they have taken the time to get to know him. Emma has a challenge ahead. Just as the public has judged Richard III guilty, armed by learning history through Shakespeare, many people are swayed by the newspaper reports, biased by the personal vendettas of reporters, editors, newspaper owners, and high-profile interviewees. Another struggle for Emma is continuing her environmental agenda in the country. Henry’s mother is a daunting presence with a “formidable spy network”, and she is a supporter of blood sports.

Notorious talks about privilege, with those in power feeling they have rights over and above the hoi polloi, and those with extreme privilege feeling they have rights over and above almost everyone. Even sweet Henry has a dark streak of jealousy, and he is delicately patronising and controlling. Emma however is determined, and the characters in the novel and their historical parallels, are shown through their relationships to Emma. A lovely irony, as she is struggling to be seen as herself, not the daughter of celebrities or the girlfriend of a society catch, “She wanted to be more than this”.

Being part of the entwined society of the rich and famous, while a burden in one way, also opens doors for Emma. She has access to family members who have inside knowledge of what has been going on behind the headlines – and finds out things affecting her personal situation along the way. She is a good central character, and there is a rich supporting cast, given details such as Rowan’s handwriting style, Henry’s fanatical neatness, Belle’s sanguine approach to her relationship with Teddy, and her grief over her sons.

The history behind the story is filled in by a list of characters and their historical counterparts at the beginning of the book and a précis of the history of Richard III at the end. There are delightful references throughout the narrative too; when the boys go to school they are separated, one in the White Tower, the other in the Red Tower. Red and white roses pop up throughout the plot. There are many references to Richard III, such as Emma and Henry spending a luxurious night out in a castle once owned by “Crookback”.

There are plenty of suspects for the boys’ disappearance, so the book works as a murder mystery. There is a lovely connection between Emma, Rowan, and nature, with foxes and owls playing both a literal and figurative role. The heart of the novel is the romance, there is a wonderful frisson when Emma first introduces Henry to Rowan at an awards ceremony, Henry who is a descendent of Henry VIII, and Rowan receiving an award for a psychological thriller written under the pseudonym R. P. King. Just as Hilary Mantel raised questions about the negative view of Thomas Cromwell, Olivia Hayfield has done a good job of making Richard III a heartthrob!

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