In The Dilemma, Vincenzi's first novel, all Francesca Channing has to do in order to keep her marriage alive, her children safe, her life intact, is to tell a lie. One simple, straightforward lie. But it isn't that simple or straightforward at all. Her husband is charismatic, powerful and rich—and he adores her. He's also manipulative and scheming, with a family as large and complex as his business—Francesca is his third wife, after all. But it was an emotional crisis of her own which finally put Francesca's dilemma into perspective, that made her wonder if she loved him enough to lie for him, that made her wonder how far she could go.
The prologue to this robust, complex family drama first published in the U.K. in 1996 by the bestselling author of Sheer Abandon finds wealthy, charismatic entrepreneur Isambard Channing forced to ask his much younger third wife, Francesca, to say he wasn't in London "that day." If she won't, it's likely that Bard will be ruined and imprisoned. The story then jumps backwards to 1982, when Francesca, at 21, writes to magnate Isambard after he appears on TV. After a five-year extended courtship, she becomes his third wife. The marriage is soon tested by Bard's rages, his vindictive adult son, his reticence on business matters and the couple's sick infant daughter. At page 385, the book arrives at the prologue scene: Bard's business practices catch up with him, putting him, for the first time, in Francesca's power and deliciously so. Fans of Sheer Abandon, prepared to read at Vincenzi's demanding scale, will find all of her plotting and characterization skills serving a familiar but very satisfying story.