A while back I received an email from Brenda Janowitz, author of The Grace Kelly Dress, The Liz Taylor Ring, and six other books. Brenda explained that she had found inspiration for her new novel in part from my book Dutch Girl, which was nice to hear, although at the time I couldn’t imagine what she meant. Brenda sent along an advance reading copy of this new book, called The Audrey Hepburn Estate, and I wanted to pass along my thoughts about a reading experience that, for me, touched all the bases.
The story will be familiar to fans of Hepburn’s filmography: the parents of Emma Jansen worked for a family that owned a Long Island estate called Rolling Hill and Emma grew up living over its garage. Years later she returns to the grand house as it’s about to be torn down, setting off an adventure with childhood friends, including the grandson of the estate owners and the son of their driver. Dark memories are confronted and secrets revealed along the way and at various points, the plot evokes parallels to the life of Audrey Hepburn or characters she played.
As you can imagine, I’m all about historic preservation and loved the subplot about passionate attempts to save the crumbling Rolling Hill mansion. Just reading about the place and those dedicated to keeping it standing made me want to join the effort because who needs yet more luxury condos or another apartment building? Must we always bulldoze the past in the name of commerce? Oh, it’s in disrepair so we might as well flatten the old building. I’ve gotten involved in many efforts to preserve historic places, whether it’s a home or part of an old fort or a viewshed as once experienced by George Washington; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. To me this aspect of the plot really resonated.
But there were still more goodies in store—mysteries related to Rolling Hill connecting back to the Netherlands in World War II, and secret passages in the old mansion, and was the place in fact haunted? So, what do you get when you round all the bases; that’s right, you hit a home run, and that was the treat Brenda Janowitz gave me. She handed me a page-turner of a book inspired in many ways by Audrey Hepburn, cleverly so, with a satisfying result. Time and again I smiled at a subtle Audrey allusion and then realized at book’s end that Brenda had included a “Finding Audrey Hepburn in The Audrey Hepburn Estate” epilogue taking the reader chapter by chapter through Hepburn references, parallels, and Easter eggs. I thought to myself, what a great device—the reader ends up not only with an entertaining novel but also an Audrey Hepburn primer, and I have no doubt Audrey herself would have been enchanted by this story because she loved to read and loved a great mystery.
The Audrey Hepburn Estate by Brenda Janowitz will be released in the United States on April 18, 2023. Good luck with it, Brenda, and thank you for an evocative reading experience that will inspire a new generation to learn more about one of the most inspiring people of the twentieth century.