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Untold Story by Monica Ali

(Doubleday, $39.99)

It sounds like a completely preposterous – but intriguing – idea for a book. What if Princess Diana didn’t die in the Paris car crash, but instead later faked her own death and wound up living in small-town America?

This is the premise behind Monica Ali’s latest novel, Untold Story. It tells the story of Lydia Snaresbrook, a middle-aged British woman who lives a simple life in a US town called Kensington. Lydia has a group of close female pals, a handsome boyfriend and a job in a dog shelter. She also has a very big secret.

Lydia has got away with leading an anonymous existence for nearly 10 years, until a paparazzi photographer coincidentally winds up in her neighbourhood and recognises her (despite the plastic surgery), having photographed her many times in the past. He’s now onto a very big story.

I must confess an initial reluctance to read this book, because I thought it might be somewhat distasteful, cashing in on the life (and death) of an adored but tragic woman.

If the book had had Diana using the accident in the Alma tunnel to fake her death and do a flit, then it would have been decidedly insensitive.

Thankfully Monica Ali hasn’t done this – instead, the princess survives the crash and a short while later plans her demise, aided by the one person she can trust.

The author has come up with plausible reasons for why the princess wants to start life anew as someone else.

However, I just couldn’t buy the bit about her thinking her sons would be better off without her. Devoted mum Diana would never have left her beloved boys.

Still, if you are willing to suspend your belief, this book becomes an entertaining read.  It’s no great literary achievement, but Monica is a skilful writer who knows how to create intriguing characters and build up the tension until the story whizzes along at a great pace.

It’s an ambitious idea and Monica does pull it off – mostly. I was captivated, but just couldn’t shake that slight feeling of unease.

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