In this intelligently drawn portrait of the complicated, volatile, and fiery man who was Mark Twain, Cullen (The Creation of Eve) explores the complex, tortured relationship between Twain and his secretary Isabel Lyon. Initially meeting over a game of cards years earlier, Lyon is eventually hired on as secretary to Twain’s wife but over time becomes a trusted friend and confidante to the author. Over the course of several years, the relationship between Twain and Lyon turns romantic, much to the chagrin of his daughter, Clara, embittered by her own relationship with a married man. But a month after Lyon marries Twain’s business manager in 1909, he fires the two and embarks on a slanderous campaign against her.
Verdict Cullen expertly portrays both Samuel Clemens, the real man behind the myth who displayed a fierce temper at home with his wife and three daughters, and Mark Twain, his charming, gregarious alter ego, the author everyone loved. Fans of historical fiction and biographies will enjoy Cullen’s book, which is similar to her previous novel Mrs. Poe in terms of style. Readers interested in Twain’s life and work may find this a valuable addition.—Mariel Pachucki, Maple Valley, WA