“Bad Summer People”

by Rita Plush

“Bad Summer People”

By Emma Rosenblum

Fiction/Flatiron Books

Novel-wise this summer, Fire Island has been the focus of a tour given by a dead woman (“On Fire Island”); a wedding (“Kismet”); and now it’s murder she wrote. No, it’s not Jessica Fletcher, the TV private eye who gets to the bottom of things, but author Emma Rosenblum who introduces us to a slew of “Bad Summer People.” Double-dealing rich folks, conniving liars, petty and mean spirited – and that’s their good side! But a murderer in their midst?

According to the prologue, maybe.

Given a biker who went over the edge of the slippery boardwalk, found face down in the scrub, three feet below. Whodunit? And to whom did they do it? Read on, summer sleuths, and see if you can solve this chilling brain-teaser.

You want Botox touch ups, kids in private school and corporate lawyers? Welcome to Salcolmb, the tony (and fictitious) Fire Island community where first-time novelist Rosenblum has sent the stylish and the spoiled to spend their summer, back-stabbing their friends and washing it down with a cocktail at the club. 

When the ladies who lunch aren’t coming on to Robert Heyworth, the hot new tennis pro – and he’s no angel either – cooking the books, handily pocketing the ledger’s unentered lessons (watch out, Robert; Susan Steinhagen has her eye on your cashflow) they size up their teammates as having “chicken legs” and “twiglike arms;” sporting anything less than La Linge or Gabriela tennis togs, a capital offense.

The kids? Oh, moms don’t “deal with the hassle,” that’s what the maids are for, schlepped from the city to do mama’s bidding.

Tête-à-têtes, gossip and tennis are served up in equal measure, and the only place you’ll find love will be on the court.

“She really was so goddamn pretty, Jason Parker thought, looking at his wife. He really wished he liked her more.” Jason prefers to look at Jen Weinstein, his best friend Sam’s wife. And not only look, he can’t keep his hands off her. To even things out, Jason’s wife Lauren serves him a backhand and takes Robert to bed. Sam? Years ago, he had a fling with Rachel Woolf who’s not having an affair with anyone just now, and not from lack of trying. Single, and unhappy about it, still in love with Sam, Rachel amuses herself by spreading dirt about everyone – a regular farmer Jones, that Rachel. My oh my, the stories she tells; one in particular is a real killer.

And it’s not just marriages on the rocks, it’s a career. Sam has been “Metooed.” Handsome, charming Sam, good dad and faithful husband (mostly) is up on charges and out of a job till it’s all sorted out. “Some bitch falsely accused me of kissing her,”  he drunkenly announces to a baffled crowd of his friends at the beach, before he staggers headlong to the shore and jumps in. Wait till he finds out about his wife. Trust me. It won’t be pretty. 

Rosenblum is on her game, offering characters aptly drawn and of a type. I can see the lot of these phonies on a Netflix adaptation that I read might be coming to the small screen. But to this reviewer’s eye there were too many secondary players crowding the page. Fewer folks with more to say and do would get my vote.

The author does know how to keep readers guessing about who gets offed on the boardwalk. It’s not till the tennis tournament a long way into the book that she craftily alludes to a few drops of rain; then a wind picks up, a blinding downpour, bringing readers back to the prologue when the dead body is discovered. Then, chapter by chapter, in alternating points of view, she doles out the details of the fatal night, giving readers quite the ride – thank goodness it’s not on a bike – till the last page, when she gives it all up.

So, who done did it and to whom? And why? Or was it an accident?

You think I’m going to tell? And ruin your private-eyeing?

Read the book! You’ll find all the answers you’re looking for, and while you’re at it, you’ll discover your friends are a load more likeable than you thought.