Fun fact: I’m rethinking the way I review books and decided I’d switch to instagram predominantly. The Summer Party by Rebecca Heath was to be my first attempt. So I jotted down some thoughts. I did pretty well initially with this…
Quick take: fascinating characters – some more twisted than others, long-kept secrets, dual timelines that intersect perfectly, well-paced with a series of twists that would not make Ben Shapiro* happy because author Rebecca Heath has kept secrets from us! Egad!
But then added a bit more. And suddenly I was over 500 words again, so here we are…The Summer Party
by Rebecca Heath
Published by Head of Zeus
Source: Bloomsbury ANZ
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
Summer, 2000. In the tranquil town of Queen's Point in southern Australia, the Whitlam family marks the end of every season with a lavish party in their clifftop mansion. Here, clutching her first glass of real champagne, the summer breeze intoxicating on her skin, sixteen-year-old Lucy Ross is kissed for the very first time. And then, in the shadows of the rose garden, she sees something she shouldn't.
Winter, 2019. After two decades of silence, Lucy is back in Queen's Point. She hasn't planned on staying long. But when human remains wash up on the freezing beach, the police close the town. Unable to leave, Lucy is forced to rekindle old friendships – and examine old truths – she has long ago tried to forget. As long-buried secrets start to surface, Lucy must decide. Will she confront the past and tell the truth? Or will she still do anything to protect the people she loves?
I enjoyed this novel by Heath. It’s interesting that Lucy only spent a month in Queen’s Point, yet it’s defined her… aspiring to the lifestyle (wealth and success) of the Whitlams.
The novel unfolds in two timelines – the month leading up to the party in January 2000 and the present (well, pre-COVID present) when Lucy returns to pack up her grandmother’s house. Her return coincides with the discovery of remains – news of the latter really providing the impetus Lucy needed to confront her past.
We’re given a number of narrators in January 2000, so we see that the Whitlams are far from the picture perfect family people believe them to be. And it’s the mother Brooke who’s the toxic influence. More than just a bitch. She’s kinda malevolent. There’s a rule in writing that you should ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ and Heath does a great job here through Brooke’s treatment of her children and others around her.
On Lucy’s arrival she’s thrust back into the past. In many ways still eager to fit in and please the Whitlams, though slowly and steadily seeing them through more jaded eyes and in the aftermath of her own losses. She’s also drawn to a local cop who she remembers as the awkward son of the town drunk, hanging around the periphery of the ‘in’ crowd decades earlier. A reminder that we can’t always pick the good guys from the bad. And vice versa.
The discovery of the remains and focus of attention on the wealthy Whitlam family allows Heath to pace this in a way that lulls us into thinking the issues lie in the past and there’s no risk in the present, but as the book nears its completion she picks up the tempo and throws in several twists that I certainly did not see coming.
I enjoyed this debut novel and look forward to more from the South Australian author who also writes YA and children’s books as Beck Nicholas.
The Summer Party by Rebecca Heath will be published in Australia by Head of Zeus in early January 2023.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
*reference his Twitter rant re Glass Onion on Netflix. (Which incidentally I didn’t like. The movie. Or the rant.)