Irish Fire

An Irish Lady

The Lavender Field



Chesapeake Summer
by Jeanette Baker
(Mira, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-7783-2459-1
As I was reading Chesapeake Summer, I could see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. Unfortunately, there is no Stella and the sultriness doesn’t seem to fit with what I know about the Maryland shore. There is a bayou feel to this that never quite connected with me. But the worst thing is that I felt like I had walked into a tale half way and I never quite caught up to whom all the characters were and how they were connected. There is no real main person and the romance that is here is rather tepid.

In a small town on the Maryland shore of the Chesapeake, there are two families that are considered “it.” The Wentworths are led by a former Superior Court Judge. There is his daughter Tracy, who is divorced from Russ Hennessey, and their daughter, Tess. There are also the Delacourts. There is patriarch Cole, who was a civil rights lawyer and is widowed from a marriage with Nola Ruth. They have a daughter, Libba Jane, who is now married to Russ Hennessey, causing some strife between the two families. Libba Jane has a daughter, Chloe Richards, from a previous marriage and Chloe is interested in Bailey Jones. Bailey is trying to sell some land that fronts the coast. They discover a body on the land and this is holding up the sale, forcing him to stay in town.

Bailey, you see, is the product of a relationship between Judge Wentworth and a prostitute/mistress named Lizzie Jones. Lizzie is dead and she was also African American. Her friend was Verna Lee Fontaine, who is an illegitimate child of Nola Ruth and a black man whose name Verna Lee has never discovered. She only recently discovered her parentage, as she was raised by Drusilla Washington, who lived on the wrong side of the tracks. Verna Lee is now back from gaining an education and is operating Perks – a healthy food coffee house and café. She is being romanced by Wade Atkins, a detective who is in town to investigate the body, which is now believed to have been a homicide.

With this cast of characters, one can imagine all the side plots and goings on. Other than Verna Lee and Wade, who are as close to main characters as there is, everyone seems to blend together. Tess and Chloe are often hard to tell apart. The generations are all connected, yet there is a sense that no one really knows anyone. For such a small town, the secrets are many and often full of angst for someone else. Not everyone knows their parentage and even when they have discovered the infidelities, no one seems overly upset by them.

There are some extreme contrasts – the Judge is only concerned about power, and is often cruel while Cole Delacourt is noble and generally admired. Tracy is a witch while Libba Jane is the opposite. Verna Lee is a product of her upbringing, having raised herself up by the bootstraps, yet has some skeletons in her closet. Wade too, was raised poor, thereby making him more tolerant than most. He is open to a relationship with Verna Lee despite their racial differences but she is gun shy.

If the story had been about Wade and Verna Lee, I think I would have liked it more. Their romance is the only thing that kept me reading. But there is so much other stuff, it is too distracting. And the worst part is that the story doesn’t end. Like a true serial tale, there is only partial resolution. The murderer is announced, but one can only assume that the trial will take place in the next installment. If you have read both tales, this one may have made more sense to you and you are looking forward to the third one. Otherwise, skip Chesapeake Summer for other summer reading.

--Shirley Lyons

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