The close-knit Donovan family of London is “dysfunctional but happy.” Its slightly nutty members (all the children’s names are Beatles references) insist on facing any difficulty with humor. Eleanor-Rigby, 35, is a journalist who travels the world for National Geographic. Her older twin brother Michel, who may have Asperger’s, works in a library, and the youngest, Maggie Mae, is dating the owner of a trendy pub. All three lead relatively unremarkable lives close to each other and their father, until Eleanor-Rigby, returning from an overseas trip, receives an anonymous letter claiming that her mother, who passed away the year before, hid her true past from everyone—and hints that her secrets included involvement in a major crime.
Meanwhile, in Canada, carpenter George-Harrison Collins receives a very similar letter about his own free-spirited mother, who raised him as a single parent but is now suffering from memory loss in a nursing home. The letters direct Eleanor-Rigby and George-Harrison to a mysterious rendezvous in Baltimore, where she expects to find out about her mother’s secret past, while he hopes to discover the identity of his absent father. Together, the two begin to unravel a tangled web of clues that revolves around the formerly wealthy and influential Stanfield family, which seems to have ended tragically in the late 20th century.
The narrative in The Last of the Stanfields shifts among numerous quirky characters and points of view, as well as jumping back and forth across the years from World War II France and postwar New York to 1980s Baltimore to present-day Baltimore, London, and Quebec. The key details of the mystery are stingily revealed bit by bit, keeping the suspense going through several intertwined story lines until the final pages. The writing style is breezy and informal, frequently relying on trite expressions such as “it was a breath of fresh air.” The complicated plot combines wartime adventure, covert heists, sibling rivalry, family estrangements, road trips, and multiple romances before finally bringing the myriad threads back together for an upbeat conclusion.