When a Midwestern businessman is killed in a helicopter crash in the Caribbean, his wife and sons learn that he had a secret life.
The prodigious Hilderbrand (The Perfect Couple, 2018, etc.), author of high-style beach reads set on Nantucket, looks to a new island for her 22nd novel—St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In an introduction, she explains that she has been going to St. John to write for years now and has finally decided to break the mold and share her love of the place in her fiction. However, the story begins in Iowa City, where magazine editor Irene Steele is ringing in the New Year alone, as her husband, Russell, is away on business. The next day she receives a call from a secretary named Marilyn Monroe informing her of his death, and before long, she and her sons, Baker and Cash, are on their way to St. John, a place they've barely heard of, where they will be escorted to a $15 million villa that Russell apparently owned and shared for years with an also-dead longtime lover, Rosie. They will meet Huck, Rosie's stepfather, and Ayers, her best friend, and develop romantic entanglements accordingly. As in the Nantucket novels, Hilderbrand delights in studding her fiction with the real, whether she's telling us what books the characters are reading—the new Curtis Sittenfeld, Lilac Girls, and The Hate U Give, among others—or sending them to actual shops, hotels, restaurants, and bars, with food and drink described in detail. We learn a great deal about the characters' pasts, but little light is shed on the shocking secret at the core of the book, and suspicions raised about Russ Steele's business dealings and the details of the helicopter crash are also left unresolved. Perhaps further volumes of the planned trilogy will tackle all this, but it's a lot to leave up in the air.
The island setting and characters are done in classic Hilderbrand style, but the balance of backstory to resolution seems off.