Review: Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau


The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

The invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of. Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal, and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamor of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything… even murder.

Extravagant, intoxicating, and thumping with suspense, bestselling Nancy Bilyeau’s magnificent Dreamland is a story of corruption, class, and dangerous obsession.

My Review

In its heyday, Coney Island must have been an unbelievable experience. This story takes us to pre-WWI Brooklyn—1911 to be exact—where three grand hotels sit uncomfortably at the far end of the Island, trying to maintain their formal lifestyle while the lively and brassy amusement park intrudes on both eyes and ears. There’s no getting away from the riff-raff, but at the same time there’s no doubt that some of the more unconventional aristocrats are drawn by the excitement and stimulation of this newfangled attraction. How can our intrepid heroine resist? Speaking of unconventional: our protagonist, the free-spirited Peggy, is heiress to a fortune while her remaining family (her father is dead) is definitely on the decline. She wants none of their lifestyle but is browbeaten into spending the summer at one of the grand hotels with the whole clan—cousins and all—courtesy of a wealthy man who is expected to marry her sister. This anticipated union will make the fortune of her beleaguered family. The only problem is that the prospective bridegroom happens to be a former boyfriend who rejected her in a most humiliating manner, and she wants nothing further to do with him. What a mess!

Nonetheless, Peggy goes along but soon regrets her participation in this horrendous family reunion. True to form, after an argument she charges off on her own into Dreamland, one of the three self-enclosed amusement parks of Coney Island. There she meets a fascinating Serbian artist named Stefan and—lo and behold—falls for him the very first night. Of course, he is of a different class socially and there’s no way she can introduce him to her family. But that’s not the worst of her problems. Trouble stalks them as three different women are murdered in suspiciously compromising circumstances, and the police immediately suspect her new friend, arresting him at the first opportunity. After all, weren’t Serbs all anarchists? It seems that Peggy was the only one convinced enough of Stefan’s innocence to follow up on other possibilities—alone. She took a lot of chances and put herself into many dangerous situations. I have to say, to me she acted more like a late 20th century woman than an early 20th century woman. But who knows how much an heiress can get away with? The murder mystery was not too difficult to figure out, but it didn’t really matter. Dreamland was the star of the book and our players the supporting cast. It was fun to visit and spend some time there.


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