Accused of murder, Alejandra flees her home, escaping to the southern edge of Spain, where she faces a life of poverty and destitution.
Seduced by the power of the rich and the anonymity that waits across the water in Tangier, Ale makes a bid for a new start. But it will come at a cost: a life of deception. Because Ale’s new friends want to know what she is running from, they want to know who she is and whether they can trust her.
Fifty years later, a young American writer wanders the streets of Tangier, searching for inspiration. When he stumbles across a trace of Ale’s life, he finds himself tangled in a story of scandal, love and danger that has not yet reached its end.
An Echo of a Scandal is the fourth release by Laura Madeline who has quickly become one of my favourite writers, however this book just did not grab me in the same way as her previous books. The story is very similar in format to Where The Wild Cherries Grow in that we have two protagonists fifty years apart with Sam, the young American writer, taking inspiration from Alejandra’s past to turn his life around. The story opens with a grisly murder but we are given no real information on who has been murdered or the identity of the culprit, instead we are introduced to Alejandra.
Alejandra, an orphan, has been raised in a hostería in Cordoba, however her presence is barely tolerated by the owner who is waiting for her to grow up so she can sell Alejandra’s virginity to the highest bidder. Alejandra has other ideas though and when she insults the man who purchases her, she is confined to the kitchen where she learns to cook from the kindly old chef and can avoid the salacious men who frequent the hostería. However, when a prominent man is murdered in the hostería, Alejandra is made the scapegoat and has to run for her life.
Alejandra disguises herself as a young man and crosses paths with Arthur Langham with whom she develops an attraction. When Arthur and his companions leave for Tangier, Alejandra follows him and manages to get a job as his chef but Arthur has secrets of his own. The further Alejandra gets embroiled in Arthur’s life, the harder she finds it to maintain her disguise and danger seems to be lurking around every corner.
Fifty years later, Sam Hackett is forced to sell his beloved typewriter to pay his rent when he discovers an old writing case in a shop in the bazaar. Intrigued by a note he finds signed by someone with the initials A.L. Sam sets out to discover the identity of the owner and is eventually led to an old house once owned by Arthur Langham. Sam soon discovers Arthur Langham died in mysterious circumstances and someone is determined to prevent him from discovering the truth. Is Arthur the owner of the writing case or does it belong to the mysterious Alejandro whose papers are also in the case? As the mystery deepens, Sam finally breaks through his writer’s block and the words begins to flow once more, however it is debatable whether his book will even have an ending let alone a happy one.
Like most past-present stories, Alejandra and Sam’s timelines are interwoven throughout the novel in alternate chapters. Alejandra remains more elusive than Sam which I suppose is the point since she is a far more ambiguous character but I never really warmed to her despite her plight. Sam is far more affable though and much easier to like. Sam also meets a host of colourful characters in a local bar who all have intriguing stories of their own so it baffles me why he wouldn’t have taken inspiration from them as there seems to have been a wealth of material there.
The setting in Tangier is highly evocative and Madeleine skilfully brings the region to life while injecting enough differences in the place over a fifty year period. I’ve always said Madeleine is a sensual writer and her descriptions of the place make you feel the heat and smell the spice in the air. While food is present in this novel, it is less prominent than in the previous books and the focus is turned to cocktails instead with a recipe at the head of the chapters. The tricks employed by the chef at the hostería in Cordoba in making bad food taste good might give you pause for thought when you next visit a restaurant though.