Haddleton’s debut is a striking, multifaceted take on the family-secret novel.
In the year 1900, Darby Walker makes the trek across Florida’s Tampa Bay from St. Petersburg; his brother Tulley’s lighthouse has gone dark, and their father is dead under suspicious circumstances. The timelines are split between this urgent present and the brothers’ childhood, starting with Darby’s birth in 1865. These sections provide background on the bitter conflicts between gregarious, sensitive Darby and boundary-pushing, standoffish Tulley, but they also delve deeper into the Walker family’s roots and its history in Cape Cod. Haddleton’s use of multiple time periods offers various perspectives on both Darby’s and Tulley’s backstories. Most strikingly, the novel outlines the life of the boys’ grandfather, Nathaniel, a staunch abolitionist who once helped to free slaves from Florida plantations. Nathaniel’s history in particular sets up powerful themes, connecting the family to the land and seas of Florida and Massachusetts, as well their participation in historical events and prejudices. Some paths, like Nathaniel’s, are heroic, but others contain dark chapters that pit brother against brother, foreshadowing Darby and Tulley’s present-day conflict. The nuanced exploration of these themes of compassion and strife would be enough to recommend the book, but it also drives the plot in the present as Darby questions Tulley about his role in their father’s death. The writing here lends a strong sense of place to the proceedings, along with thorough—but not overwhelming—detail on ships, lighthouses, and the sea: “Darby only had to make it six miles across the bay….There were no passengers aboard to complain about the rough ride or about getting wet, and a little salt water on the boat didn’t concern Darby in the slightest.” With the initial murder mystery linking all these disparate elements together, this must-read novel maintains a consistent, compelling sense of tension and feeling.
A well-researched mystery, punctuated by thrilling tension and deep emotion.