When Deborah Strong accepts an invitation for a reunion with high school friends who will all be turning fifty, she anticipates a lovely Fourth of July weekend in Maine. Her friend Brenda’s summer house is rustic and beautiful, but from the moment Deborah arrives, something seems wrong. Old rivalries flare between Brenda and Rachel, and Krista plays the role of peacekeeper the way she did thirty years earlier.
$16.99 – $25.99
Soon, a murder disturbs the quiet of the summer homes that dot the isolated cove. Deborah’s suspicions follow her like the Maine landscape—plenty of sunshine, plenty of fog, and plenty of evening mosquitoes that, like the questions now plaguing their reunion, arrive like the sparks of fireworks. Where is Brenda’s husband? Where have her caretaker and cook gone? Who is the thin young man who keeps appearing? Is one of them a murderer? Or could it be the old woman who lives across the street; her son, who runs an oyster farm in the face of global warming; or the poet-tenant who lives in her apartment? Deborah even suspects each of the friends she grew up with. Her idyllic summer retreat has turned as deadly as contaminated shellfish.
This is Dean’s finest story telling. Not only does she use “Calderwood Cove” to paint a vivid picture of the natural beauty of coastal Maine, we are also treated to real insight about the interconnectedness of long-time families and the culture clash of new arrivals. As we reach the climax, the identity of the murderer becomes more and more certain. However, unraveled ties to the other prime characters make it a truly well-crafted mystery.
Sharon Dean’s latest mystery novel, Calderwood Cove, is a perfect read for any season, but especially for summer. Set over Fourth of July weekend, the narrative incorporates a Maine setting that is both breathtakingly beautiful and yet dark in many ways. Compelling details, some overt and some very subtle, lead the reader to think in new and challenging directions. The characters come to life in ways that sometimes surprise and always satisfy the reader. The reunion of four high school friends, which is the central premise of the novel, shows not simply how supportive women friends can be, but also how complicated – and sometimes downright unpleasant – those connections can be. Such relationships are easy to gloss over in retrospect, but Dean shows all the nuances – both from the past and in the present. Dean never stoops to simple stereotypes. For instance, the impressive and complex development of the nonagenarian Esther shows both her admirable and her maybe not so admirable qualities. The hard truths of aging minds and bodies reveal themselves, yet Esther is allowed to her live fully both on the pages of the book and long after in the reader’s mind.
Summer at the beach. What could be more enticing? Deborah Strong is looking forward to relaxation, a soft breeze and the company of old friends. And it seems to be there when she arrives at her friend Brenda’s beach house, except there are little things that feel off. Brenda’s husband doesn’t know about the invitation. Brenda spins a tale of woe about being a trophy wife. The cook and handyman skulk around in the night and disappear. Strange but not enough to dispel the vacation mood. Until there’s a dead body. The pace shifts and Deborah becomes an unwilling detective again. Intuitive and persistent, she digs around, asks questions and ultimately fingers the killer. Deborah is a likeable amateur detective. She’s empathic, curious and knows when to put down her foot, especially when it comes to dealing with the authorities who are barking up the wrong tree (again.) Third in the Deborah Strong mystery series, Calderwood Cove deepens Deborah’s character and makes for a satisfying read.
For Fourth of July Deborah Strong, and Rachel Cummins, and Krista Greenleaf have been invited by Brenda Calderwood (née Peterson) to her summer home in Maine for an impromptu reunion. The four friends hadn’t been in contact since high school, except Deborah and Rachel, so…Why now? For what purpose? It was obvious they hadn’t kept in touch, but Brenda’s explanation was a tale of a trophy wife and a controlling husband who verbally shackled her with thoughts of a destitute life, sans any financial support, should she attempt a divorce. Yet, divorce was not what she wanted nor was accepting help from her oldest friends. She has the life she wants with her painting and time spent at Calderwood Cove summer house. Yet, curiouser and curiouser is the day, when Deborah sees the cook and her handyman husband leave, later no where to be found. But, when the police arrive to talk to Brenda, it isn’t either of the couple found dead…it’s more shocking! Sharon L. Dean has penned an intensely entertaining story. What begins as a way for old friends to reconnect, soon turns secretive, sinister, and shocking. Deborah is the most intuitive, yet surprised how little they knew of each other, then and now, and how some of the past was left unresolved. Everyone is on edge, and with the cook and her husband missing, the victim came as a surprise. Details emerge about illegal business dealings, conflicts with neighbors, and abusive personal relationships, but the official investigation, which occurs mostly off the page, has a hard time nailing down a motive for murder. Deborah asks the questions I would of those close to the victim, but despite being nosy, she shares what she learns with police. Her suspicions lie with her friend, the neighbors, and a young red-headed man on the bike. Surprising peril and an arrest come in the final chapters, and although the motive was low on Deborah’s and my list of possibilities, it was still a shock when all was revealed. However, I’d love to know how other readers felt about Deborah’s decision to keep an important detail to herself. Sharon’s writing is always entertaining following day-to-day events, visiting local sites, conversations among the friends, and focusing on the informal search for answers. Her characters are realistic and diverse in age, experience, and temperament making for interesting interactions…good, bad, and ugly. Her descriptive language illustrates well the coastal environment as well as including interesting insights in Maine’s history and current issues like Somali immigration. She also included fascinating details about oyster farming, blueberry picking, croquet, and painting. Loved it! It’s a definite contender for my Top Reads for 2022. Disclosure: I received an ARC from the author. My review is voluntary with honest insights and comments.
The beach beckons, the weather’s right, and charming New England homes and pastimes beguile when four former classmates gather to celebrate their half-century mark. Librarian (and accidental sleuth) Deborah Strong can hardly wait to explore the area and learn what’s going on with her friends–until their hostess’ husband turns up dead. And the hostess exhibits bizarre ways of coping while mysterious characters related in odd ways to the family appear, disappear and reappear, all with their own agenda regarding the widow and the house and land she inherits. It’s a low-key evocative Fellini enigma that Deborah does her best to catalog and index, even if it means exposing her hostess and endangering herself. The mystery is like the ocean cove it’s set on: Ostensibly calm, with great beauty, edible bounty and benign currents. A place to create lasting memories while shaping character. But also a place that harbors secrets that thrive in the dark, attract storms, wreck lives. Sharon L. Dean makes the most of this setting, painting it vividly with spare penstrokes. She makes the most of the characters, spelling out their wants and desperation, but also their humor. I enjoy how she uses games, meals, chores and walks taken by Deborah to reveal people’s degrees of guilt until the final denouement. In the process we see hearts surgically laid open–some ready, like the four friends’–to heal.