A small town is flung into the worst hurricane in US history in Summertime, Marlborough author Vanessa Lafaye's first published novel.
Summertime was inspired by a real storm wreaking devastation in 1930s Florida. Taking the brunt of it was a segregated seaside community and a nearby makeshift camp of disenfranchised and damaged WW1 veterans, both white and people of colour, tasked with building a railroad in leu of a government war service payout.
The opening chapter - a baby is threatened by a hungry crocodile - reached out and grabbed me by the collar.
However, the next sizeable chunk of the book busied itself with scene setting and character building. Vanessa is adept at this in a way that fills me with envy, but the story threatened to tail off like a spent squib while it hung around waiting for the main event and its most exciting character, the storm. And, like stale tropical air, the odd metaphor could do with a freshen up (frustrated Sheriff Dwayne contemplates the beauty of a crab; will he/won't stamp on it and vent his anger?).
But full steam ahead for the second half of the book. An attempted murder-mystery picked up the pace before the wind quite literally blew with a vengeance, settled a few moral scores, and left the inevitable collateral damage.
It's been compared to The Help probably because it features twentieth century US racial inequality and a black nanny-cum-maid. But The Help's protagonists were imbued with an urgency missing from Summertime. The inhabitants of Heron Key were like leaves tossed in a breeze until the hurricane brought out a kill or cure for their stunted lives.
Overall I'd recommend this impressive debut, and enjoyed (and am grateful for) the social history lesson it slipped in on the way. Vanessa Lafaye joins a growing lexicon of published local authors.
Summertime is published by Orion and is one sale now at Marlborough's White Horse Bookshop and other good retailers.