Shadows of a Down East Summer

Written by Lea Wait
Review by Sarah Johnson

This skillfully drawn multi-period mystery blends present-day crime with scenes from 1890, a year when painter Winslow Homer was living and creating his masterworks along the picturesque Maine coast.  American Studies professor and antique print dealer Maggie Summer hopes to spend her summer holiday relaxing with her boyfriend Will at his great-aunt Nettie’s house in Waymouth, Maine, but things don’t turn out as planned.  While Will dutifully performs home repairs for his relative, Maggie is asked to help a family friend, Carolyn Chase, conduct research on her mother, a noted 20th-century artist. Despite their brief acquaintance, due to her reputation and expertise Maggie ends up as the caretaker for some papers belonging to Carolyn’s family, including a century-old journal.

Maggie becomes drawn into the story of Anna May Pratt, a young woman who posed for several of Winslow Homer’s paintings alongside her best friend, Jessie.  In her diary, Anna May expresses delight at the opportunity she and Jessie are offered, despite their initial wariness at being asked to let their hair down (literally) and wear outfits more appropriate to fisherwomen. So calming is the seaside atmosphere in both the modern and historical scenarios that when a murder occurs, it comes as a shock. The diary contains long-held secrets someone is willing to kill for.

Genealogy buffs will enjoy sorting out the family relationships, and although careful readers will discern part of the puzzle long before Maggie does, it doesn’t make the parallel stories any less involving. The jealous rivalries present in both timelines demonstrate that human nature hasn’t changed much. Wait includes the colorful characters expected for this small-town setting and a sufficient dose of suspense. She also adds plenty of educational details on the antique trade and many mouthwatering examples of Down East cuisine. Recommended.