Roberta “Bert” Lenehan expects peace and quiet when she accepts a job as caretaker on the remote, picturesque island village of Portsmouth, North Carolina. Bruised by a recent breakup, Bert plans to open a restaurant after a stint of solitude, but solitude never comes. Nosy locals like womanizing Jimmy Range and earth mother Lettie Jones disturb her by day and ghostly sounds unsettle her by night. One welcome disturbance is rugged forest ranger Hunter O’Hagan, with whom Bert flirts outrageously. He tells her the legend of his ancestor, the 18th-century “sea-born woman” Jerushia, whose spirit supposedly haunts the island (and whose chapters counterpoint those in the present following Bert). Bert listens attentively because of her recent experience with creepy night noises, because she herself is a sea-born woman (born aboard her father’s boat), and because she’s falling in love with Hunter, despite feeling that he’s too young for her. The line between legend and reality becomes dangerously blurred when the corpse of a meddlesome local woman named Luna Mae is found in an island marsh, with murder suspected, and Bert learns that Luna Mae was not the first Portsmouth corpse in recent memory. A previous caretaker died under mysterious circumstances, a fact conveniently concealed from Bert before she took the job. Does the legend of Jerushia connect the island’s modern-day mysteries?
Plot coherence in Mountford’s debut gets swamped by descriptions of exotic settings and homely everyday activities. Romantic suspense 1, whodunit 0.