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A Nest of Magpies
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Marshall's entertaining first novel, set in the 1960s in the secluded town of Old Swithinford, England, is a solid historical romance. While most of the locals are obsessed with adhering to centuries' worth of convention, Fran Catherwood, a 40-ish widow who's moved back to Old Swithinford after working as a TV scriptwriter in America, manages to shed her ``self-spun cocoon of Victorian morality,'' though only after considerable soul-searching. Fran, always outwardly proper, decent and forgiving, privately struggles with repressed anger toward her histrionic, seductive friend, Johanna; with repressed desire for her married step-cousin William, who shares her feelings and her home; and with the fear of malicious gossip from small-minded townsfolk about her untraditional, if still innocent, living arrangement with him. Marshall is largely effective in conveying the burden Fran shoulders, caught between an old world resistant to change, but which she loves nonetheless, and a new world of progress that may bring women's liberation but is epitomized by the entrepreneurs who want to turn an old manor house into a hotel. Curiously, the energy Fran directs toward Johanna can sometimes seem more erotic than that directed toward William, who, while a gentlemanly British academic, has a disturbing side (``You didn't know how near you came to being raped, that night,'' he teases Fran). Even so, the author limns a sympathetic protagonist whose self-analysis is perceptive and complex. (Sept.)

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