Billy McKenzie, A Story of Love tells the intertwined tales of two women and their loves. One of the women, Flora Lijak, is a nineteenth century English writer and anti-Tsarist revolutionary. The other, Ozzie Hosseini, an American, is a twenty-first century scholar of English Literature.
Flora's abuse at an early age has seemingly rendered her numb to sexual pleasure, but in the prime of her life – and much to her surprise – she has an incandescent love affair with an American Anarchist named William McKenzie. Their short-lived romance takes place in London in the summer of 1895. Her lover is killed, and the loss devastates her.
Ozzie, too, has lost a love, her husband Tom. When we first encounter Ozzie she is still grieving and has no interest in finding another love. But then along comes Mark Morehead, a decoder working at NSA. Ozzie falls crashingly in love with Mark.
Linking Flora's story and Ozzie's is the ancient and mysterious Lijak Manuscript, named for Flora's husband, who discovered it in an out-of-the-way monastery in Italy. The Manuscript, written in an unknown and undecipherable alphabet, is filled with bizarre, erotically-charged illustrations.
Mark's interest in decrypting the ancient document leads him to visit Ozzie in her office at Georgetown University – he mistakenly thinks she's an expert on Flora. The encounter is the beginning of their romance. His visit also piques Ozzie's interest in Flora and her life. By tracking down records and artifacts – a marriage certificate, an old photograph or two – Ozzie manages to piece together the story of Flora's life, including her poignant affair with McKenzie and her final love for a younger woman named Alice Neff.
Ever in the background is the Manuscript, which Ozzie comes to realize is an exposition of "good witchcraft" and a treatise on love, likely penned by women.
A radical plot twist at the end – which ambushes the reader – brings the novel to a satisfying conclusion.
Billy McKenzie, A Story of Love is a beautifully written tale of two women and their loves, with strong, sympathetic, believable characters. It draws a vivid picture of late Victorian London and the city's revolutionary circles and will appeal to lovers of literary and historical fiction alike.
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