Twenty years after a murder at her family’s tony Long Island Sound summer enclave, an expatriate actress returns to right a terrible injustice and heal her broken heart.
From June to August, generations of fishermen from Winthrop Island’s year-round Portuguese community have supplied the lobsters and occasional bootleg for bridge parties, weddings, golf tournaments, and other social occasions organized by the island’s patrician cottagers. Just as the locals steer carefully around summer people, the “purebloods” are ever mindful of subtle social gradations within their own set. As one of them, Isobel Fisher, remarks to her divorced father, Hugh, on the day of his wedding, “Thank God you’ve found a dear, lovely woman to marry…and not some gimlet goddess from the Club.” It’s 1951, and the Fishers are still regarded as new money (derived from an ancestor’s investment in toilets), their summer redoubt, Greyfriars, built on the less fashionable end of the island, next door to the lighthouse. If the summer crowd and locals are in perfect accord over one thing, it’s Isobel’s wild streak and too-close friendship with the lighthouse keeper’s handsome son, Joseph Vargas, while engaged to a scion of the old guard. As she tells her soon-to-be stepsister, Miranda Schuyler (who has her own thoughts about Joseph), “I haven’t got your brains, I’m afraid. I need a little action to keep me happy.” As in many Williams novels, there’s quite a bit of zigzagging though the 1930s, '50s, and '60s to fill in the characters’ backstories and milk the main plot intrigue: the murder of Hugh Fisher and a homicide verdict that’s fishier than a Fourth of July clambake. Eyebrows lift when the victim’s stepdaughter, Miranda, steps onto the island for the first time in decades. Since moving to Europe she’s become a successful actress, never mind the enormous shiner her movie-star sunglasses can’t quite conceal. To outward appearances, the salacious curiosity about her stepfather’s murder which drove her from the island has greatly faded. Even her dear, lovely mother and Isobel, still single (and sullen), appear to have moved on, converting Greyfriars into a glorified boardinghouse and calling it an artists’ colony. Meanwhile, the family of Joseph Vargas—the admitted killer sent to Sing Sing—is stone-faced about his recent prison escape and rumored sightings near the island. Helping Miranda in her effort to clear Joseph—whom she believes innocent, though she keeps her reasons close to the vest—are her rambunctious half brother, Hugh Jr., (born after their father's murder), the ladies boarding at Greyfriars, and old-shoe banker Clayton Monk, Isobel’s square, endearingly steady ex-flame. As Miranda’s Shakespearean namesake would say: "How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't."
With just the right touch of bitters, Williams (Cocoa Beach, 2017, etc.) mixes a satisfyingly tempestuous—and eminently beachworthy—follow-up to her beloved Schuyler Sisters series.