The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly
I found this book at Dollar Tree last year and was intrigued by the cover and summary. Once I brought it home and checked to see what Goodreads and Litsy had to say about it, I put it away to languish at the bottom of my TBR pile.
When we moved our bedroom and bookshelves around a couple months ago, I spotted this and it kept calling to me. Though hesitant by the low end of 3 stars rating, I dived in and am thrilled that I did!
It’s been twenty years since Riddle James Camperdown saw Harry Devlin. When they run into each other at a party, it brings back memories of a summer long ago in Cape Cod when she was only thirteen.
From there, readers are swept back into Riddle’s eccentric family as her WWII hero father, known by all as “Camp”, runs for political office and her movie star mother, Greer, is bored with the entire idea. On a visit to a neighbor’s barn, Riddle stumbles on a confusing scene; uncertain of what she witnessed, she’s reluctant to say anything.
Camp’s campaign is heating up just as his former friend Michael Devlin threatens to reveal a shocking secret from the war that would end his political career before it can even begin. Riddle learns her mother was once engaged to Michael, who supposedly left her at the altar, and is unhappy to see them spending time together though she’s enamored with Michael’s nineteen-year-old son, Harry.
Riddle’s secret about what she may have witnessed in the barn becomes dangerous when she stumbles upon the body of Harry’s missing brother, Charlie, on her neighbor’s property.
Her secret reaches fever-pitch when Michael accuses her father of hurting Charlie and spills the horrible secret he has been threatening Camp with… but has her silence put her family on a collision course with destiny?
This book was fascinating! It’s character driven and tells young Riddle’s story through her own voice with the perspective that age has given her.
“Sometimes it seemed to me that my parents never met a catastrophe they didn’t like. The day-to-day stuff—cooking, laundry, simple parenting—undid them, but give them a war or a murder, set the whole world on fire, and they were like a vaudeville team that you couldn’t extract from the stage without a grappling hook.”
Her parents are a train wreck, their relationship is messy and their parenting questionable. Riddle’s silence on what she believed she saw felt authentic and compelling to me. I felt like I could understand (having once been a kid myself) why she chose not to say anything for as long as she did: she didn’t witness a crime with her own two eyes, it was a complex situation where she feared at first she could be wrong, there were consequences whether right or wrong, followed by the vaguely threatening actions of the person involved.
The ending stunned me. I honestly didn’t see it coming and I let out an actual gasp when I read it. The story came together seamlessly and was incredibly bittersweet. Complex characters, great dialogue, strong writing overall.
I recommend The Last Summer of the Camperdowns to readers who enjoy quirky family dramas / mystery.