Twelve-year-old Riddle James Camperdown, named after Jimmy Hoffa, is not exactly thrilled about what the summer of 1972 promises to hold in store for her. Her father, known as "Camp," is running for Congress, and Riddle --- who's entering an awkward age --- dreads mandatory family appearances at campaign events. Riddle's mother, Greer, a glamorous but chilly former film star, claims to dread these events too but seems to secretly revel in the opportunity to indulge in gossip and drama and to make a stunning appearance. Riddle suspects that her summer at the family's Cape Cod home will consist largely of hiding out from her parents while training for equestrian events with her beloved horse.
"THE LAST SUMMER OF THE CAMPERDOWNS, with its vivid and notable Cape Cod setting, is a unique beach read, the kind that might keep you glancing over your shoulder to make sure no one is sneaking up behind your beach chair."
But Riddle doesn't bargain on encountering evidence of a murder during one of her early summer trips to the stable; nor does she count on her own reaction, which is to clam up about what she's seen. Even when she learns that a neighboring boy has disappeared without a trace, she remains unable to tell anyone what she's seen and what she suspects, a significant change from her usual wry loquaciousness.
The missing boy is Charlie Devlin, the youngest child of Michael Devlin, who, it turns out, has his own tangled history with the Camperdown family. Devlin and Camp served together in World War II, sharing a secret that Devlin is threatening to make public and to ruin Camp's election prospects. What's more, Devlin and Greer used to be romantically involved, and their ongoing flirtatious banter leads many (including Riddle) to suspect that there may still be something going on between these old flames.
Riddle herself becomes increasingly interested in Devlin's son, Harry, an older boy who appears to court Riddle's friendship despite the fact that she's seven years younger than he is. Riddle's infatuation grows amidst her mother's incessant teasing and her own misgivings about the Devlin family and the disappearance of Charlie, but threatens to backfire if and when the truth about what Riddle knows comes to light.
Elizabeth Kelly's second novel (after the critically acclaimed APOLOGIZE, APOLOGIZE!) continues to explore --- in her characteristically tight, witty prose --- the dysfunctional American family. Here she also skewers the world of money and privilege, as a summer spent at glittery cocktail parties and on fox-hunting excursions provides a thin veneer barely covering the darkness, greed and buried secrets that lie beneath. THE LAST SUMMER OF THE CAMPERDOWNS is garnering a lot of comparisons to THE GREAT GATSBY, with its love triangle, dangerous obsessions and undercurrent of violence. But Kelly's novel pushes the boundaries even more, bumping up against absurdity but remaining just credible enough to be, at times, seriously creepy.
THE LAST SUMMER OF THE CAMPERDOWNS, with its vivid and notable Cape Cod setting, is a unique beach read, the kind that might keep you glancing over your shoulder to make sure no one is sneaking up behind your beach chair.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 14, 2013