Published more than 60 years ago, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca still captivates, at least partly because of its insistent ambiguity: we never learn definitively whether Maxim de Winter murdered his stunning first wife, Rebecca, or why Maxim so hastily remarried a mousy younger woman, famously unnamed. Selected by the du Maurier estate, Beauman (Destiny) has written a "companion" to Rebecca that preserves, and even deepens, the earlier novel's crafty evasions. Set in 1951, two decades after Rebecca's death was ruled a suicide, Beauman's story opens with the same (now famous) sentence as the earlier book: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." Elderly, ailing Colonel Arthur Julyan was magistrate in the district when the legendary de Winter mansion mysteriously burned to the ground. Julyan's last days are disturbed by the intrusive visits of Terence Gray, a Scottish academic who claims to be writing a book about Rebecca's death. Then both Julyan's sharp daughter Ellie and Gray, who has secrets of his own, become rattled when Rebecca's personal effects begin arriving at the Julyan home. One of the anonymously sent packages contains Rebecca's journal, written just before her death—a possible Rosetta stone. Beauman expertly tells Rebecca's tale from four different perspectives—Julyan's, Gray's, Ellie's and, most vividly, Rebecca's—without settling which version is nearest the truth. Though a composite Rebecca emerges—depressive, possibly schizophrenic, promiscuous, fearless and almost certainly "dangerous"—Beauman merely hints at a biological cause, raising titillating, though fully plausible, possibilities. This lushly imagined sequel, which cleverly reproduces the cadences of du Maurier's prose, resurrects Manderley without sweeping away all the artful old cobwebs. Readers should pounce. Agent, Peter Matson. 15-city NPR campaign. (Oct. 2)
Forecast:While Rebecca may not be familiar to younger readers (though the 1940 Hitchcock film starring Laurence Olivier is a classic), Beauman's seductive sequel should do well on its own and also prompt interest in the original, which is being reissued in mass market.