cover image FALLAM'S SECRET


Denise Giardina, . . Norton, $24.95 (356pp) ISBN 978-0-393-05206-0

Giardina (Storming Heaven) constructs an intriguing time-travel narrative steeped in the history of West Virginia. After her family died in a fire in 1948, two-year-old Lydde Falcone was taken in by her Uncle John and Aunt Lavinia and grew up with them in West Virginia. Now a middle-aged actress living in Norchester, England, Lydde returns to West Virginia to take care of her aunt after John's death. There, she learns that John, a physicist, believed he had discovered a hole in the time/space continuum. She follows his map to some caves near her aunt's house, pokes around and suddenly finds herself back in England—England of 1657, that is, where she finds her uncle alive and well. Passing as a man thanks to her outlandish clothes and forward manner, Lydde attracts the suspicion of Noah Fallam, a local Puritan official who upholds Oliver Cromwell's ban on music and art and turns out to be an ancestor of hers (his brother becomes one of the first Englishmen to come to Appalachia in 1671). She also falls for the Raven, a sort of Robin Hood who steals from rich Puritans to give to the poor. Lydde's rapid adjustment to her 17th-century surroundings is hard to swallow, as is her instant love for the Raven. Yet Giardina is an accomplished storyteller, and the narrative is rich in detail. The despoliation of West Virginia's mountains by mining companies, a familiar theme of Giardina's, adds complexity to the plot. While this book doesn't carry the literary weight of some of her previous work, it's a captivating read. 6-city author tour.(Mar.)