cover image London Holiday: 1

London Holiday: 1

Richard Peck. Viking Books, $23.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-670-87368-5

Three middle-aged American women, childhood friends from Cape Vincent, Mo., travel to London for a vacation in Peck's effervescent fourth adult novel (after This Family of Women). With them, they carry the frustrations of unfulfilled dreams. After Chicago third-grade teacher Margo Skinner Mayhew is wounded in a classroom shooting by a deranged parent, her do-gooder friend, St. Louis society matron Lesley Vogel Hockaday, convinces third musketeer, Manhattan interior designer Julia Englehardt Steadman, that they should give Margo a break from a life that has been burdened by a divorce and a churlish teenage daughter. The three, each having endured disappointment and loveless marriage, find themselves at an extraordinary B&B run by Mrs. Smith-Porter, an intriguing character whose good-natured, no-nonsense British reserve hides a past full of tribulations. Although Margo's selfish daughter has come along as a wet blanket, the three grownups manage to find unexpected and heartwarming romantic adventures, which Peck conveys with stylish brio that eschews clich and sentimentality. Just as things begin to get interesting for them, Mrs. Smith-Porter is injured in an accident, and the Americans find themselves running the B&B and postponing their flights home. While the opening background chapters tend to lag a bit, Peck, well known for his Blossom Culp series for children, is at the top of his form once the travelers hit London. The epiphanies experienced by the three women pour over readers with the light, dry sparkle of good champagne. Among the highlights: Peck's glimpses of London (well-traveled, off-the-beaten-track and frequented by antique-collectors) and one of the funniest, most appealing love-at-first-sight stories to come along in some time. (June)