(Published in the US as Under a Dark Summer Sky.)
‘Nathan,’ she groaned, racing to the porch. At first she could not comprehend what her eyes reported. The Moses basket was moving slowly down the lawn towards the mangroves, with Sam bouncing hysterically from one side of it to the other. She could hear faint cries from the basket as Nathan woke. She stumbled down the porch steps in her hurry, and raced towards the retreating basket.
Then she saw him.
He was camouflaged by the mangrove’s shade at the water’s edge, almost the same green as the grass. He was big, bigger than any she had seen before. From his snout, clamped on to a corner of the basket, to the end of his dinosaur tail, the gator was probably fourteen feet long. Slowly he planted each of his giant clawed feet and determinedly dragged the basket towards the water.
If you’re not already gripped, you should probably check your pulse. This is how Summertime opens, with the Kincaid’s baby being taken by an alligator in the minute, Missy, his nanny, nips inside to grab some ice and cool herself down.
It’s 1935 and tensions are high in Heron Key, Florida. Preparations are underway for the high point in the social calendar, ‘the only one at which coloureds were allowed – on their own side of the beach, of course’, the Fourth of July barbecue. Missy will be going for the first time in several years and there’ll be a group of veterans present, including the one that Missy loves, Henry Roberts.
The veterans are a problem as far as the people of the town are concerned. Screwed out of a bonus by the government, they’ve been sent to build a bridge. They’re dirty, hungry, frustrated and angry.
Both Doc Williams, also a veteran disturbed by his time in the war and Dwayne Campbell, Deputy Sheriff, who rumour has it beats his wife after she gave birth to a mixed-race baby (they’re both white), have both advised against the veterans attendance. Doc ‘convinced they were a danger to others, and themselves’; Dwayne referring to them as ‘Drunks and psychos’.
At the barbeque there is trouble, the worst of which is that Hilda Kincaid is attacked and left for dead. Add this to the setting of the American south in a time when Florida had the highest number of lynchings of any southern state; throw in the group of veterans, some of whom have brown skin, in the area and there’s not going to be any let up in the novel’s tension. Oh, and there’s a hurricane on the way, in case you aren’t close enough to the edge of your seat yet.
Summertime considers themes of race, love, domestic violence and the psychological consequences of war. Lafaye’s writing conjures vivid pictures of characters and events; it’s particularly strong in the depictions of the hurricane when I felt as though I was living through it with the characters.
My only criticism is that there were so many characters with interesting stories they felt condensed and I wanted more of them all and more chance for their tales to be told. I would quite happily have read another fifty pages.
As it is, however, I enjoyed Summertime and the way Lafaye brought a number of tense situations together to create an engrossing narrative. I’ll certainly be looking out for her next novel.
Thanks to Orion for the review copy.