I find the concept of "doppelganger" intriguing, particularly the idea of "glimpsing yourself in peripheral vision" and that being the harbinger of bad luck. I had no idea doppelganger carried with it that meaning, but it sort of gives me the chills. At the center of Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree is a doppelganger, or look alike. It's a thriller-ish sort of story, though the "twin" doesn't carry with it that same chilling meaning. This is not the first time I've read about a lookalike taking the place of the original. Josephine Tey used this plot device in Brat Farrar, and if I remember correctly French author Sebastien Japrisot uses it effectively as well in one of his noir crime novels (he wrote several, all of which I gulped down as soon as they were published in the US, but I'm digressing).
The Ivy Tree begins with a twenty-something young woman called Mary Grey sitting and enjoying the lovely Northumberland landscape. She's accosted by a handsome but surly stranger accusing her of being someone she's not. It turns out that she's on Winslow property, and she happens to be the spitting image of Annabel Winslow, the runaway heiress to the the family's fortunes thought to be long dead. Conor, a distant Irish relation, is certain she's Annabel come home to have her share of Whitescar, the family home. Conor is none too pleased as he's labored hard on the land with little recognition from his grandfather. It takes some convincing, but eventually Mary persuades him that she is indeed from Canada and far back in her family tree her ancestors may have come from this part of the world, which is what drew her to the country. Annabel she is not.
It's all a matter of chance, but Conor sees his opportunity to take advantage of the situation. He proposes that Mary take on the identity of the dead Annabel and return to Whitescar--the prodigal granddaughter. She was much loved by her grandfather and he's sure that the will still names Annabel as the heir. The catch is if Annabel weren't to return the property would revert to his younger cousin, Julie, not Conor, leaving him out in the cold. His only chance is to convince everyone Annabel has returned to take her rightful place as heir. When the grandfather passes away, and the poor man is in a fragile state, Mary can hand over the goods but keep a tidy sum for herself. Being nearly penniless, Mary accepts and the deception begins.
The story isn't as complicated as it sounds, but Mary's impersonation ends up being riddled with obstacles. Can she convince everyone she is Annabel? What about Annabel's secrets? Will they trip her up. The deception turns out to be more dangerous than Mary ever expected. This is a story that promises twists and turns, suspense and perhaps even some romance. It had all the right elements, but to be honest, the story didn't really grab me. It was a little slower going than I like for a novel of suspense. I enjoyed it on one level--it was well written and reasonably well plotted with interesting characters. But somehow I still failed to engage with the story. I think I can blame it on reading this at the same time I was reading Rebecca, which is absolutely masterfully done. It seems unfair to compare the two, but I couldn't help myself. I have, however, really enjoyed Mary Stewart's Arthurian novels and still plan on reading some of her other Gothic novels. I think it was just a matter of timing as the premise is a good one.
This was my first R.I.P. book. I decided to be a glutton for punishment and have moved on to Joyce Carol Oates's Beasts. It's a slender little novel and so far has started out innocuously enough. I'm not far, though, so I don't expect that to last! I know she'll throw me for a loop eventually.