Despite Beatriz Williams’ complicated plots with murder, deceit, and harrowing escapes, she always delivers a happy ending, and Cocoa Beach is no exception. With American volunteers in London during World War I, wealthy aristocrats in Cornwall, and rumrunners at a posh plantation in Florida during the Prohibition, the varied settings add to the historical context of a fast-paced melodrama of romance and intrigue.
Virginia Fortesque, young American volunteer ambulance driver, meets Simon Fitzwilliam, the tall dashing British doctor, and, of course, they fall in love as she drives him across the battlefields. Their lives are complicated by their families. She has a wealthy father who has been imprisoned for murdering her mother; he has a wife and son, with a huge debt attached to the ancestral home.
When the war ends, he divorces his wife, marries Virginia, and leaves to make his fortune at the downtrodden family investment in Cocoa Beach, Florida, while she returns to her family in New York. When he dies suddenly, she and their two year old daughter travel to Florida to settle the estate. And so the real story begins.
Williams cleverly changes tacks frequently, as she alternates between the war years and the present in 1922. No one is who they seem, and the intrigue hardens into murder for greed, with lies about everything. The reader is never sure who is telling the truth until the end.
Virginia remains the only character who is decent and true, the victim of the villains surrounding her. If you read Williams’ A Certain Age, you may remember her as a minor character whose father is accused of killing his wife, Virginia’s mother. Williams fleshes out her story in Cocoa Beach, with her usual successful combination of romance, mystery and murder, adding a dash of prohibition and infidelity, and the compelling formula of distracting foils and dangerous tension.
Fun and compelling – Cocoa Beach is a great beach read.