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.
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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.
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.