When her wealthy sister and brother-in-law die unexpectedly, Julia Lamontaigne finds herself the guardian of nephew Ron and his younger siblings Dana and Jack. She’s faced with the seemingly hopeless task of shepherding her three charges through their grief – Ron has clammed up, Dana can’t stop crying and little Jack just asks for his mom.
Moving into her sister’s substantial home, Julia’s own grief and money worries add to her despair – she’s lost her job and can’t begin to afford to give the children the life they’re used to. How can they ever function as a family surrounded by so many memories, yet how can she even think of uprooting the children from everything they’ve known?
A sliver of hope comes in the form of a derelict cottage in Franklin, New Hampshire, part of her sister’s estate. If she can do it up and sell it she can at least gain some breathing space.
With just the summer vacation to complete the project, Julia and the children tentatively, and then enthusiastically, embrace the challenge. They discover not only support and new friendships from a number of quarters, but also that their little cottage has played a part in the town’s most sensational crime – the murder of a young, talented artist. The husband has been jailed and the case closed… but not everyone in Franklin agrees.
Summer Shadows is a pleasure to read, with an engaging plot. It continues at a steady pace and creates genuine affection for its characters and interest in the ending.
Julia and the children’s characters are well rounded. On the surface Ron, Dana and Jack seem a little too well behaved, particularly considering the emotional upheaval they’ve been through, but Ron’s belief that he must now assume responsibility for his siblings, and the children’s fear of being split up and relocated if they cause trouble, are believable. We care about what happens to them.
Other characters, including handsome neighbour Robert and his daughter Amelia, local gossip Mrs Jurta and creepy hardware store owner John Irwin are less finely drawn, but keep the plot moving along at a good pace.
While there are few surprises, Traynor cleverly throws in some red herrings by introducing signposts to disaster that turn out to be harmless. Just as the danger we fear for Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is in reality nothing more than a laundry list, so it is in Summer Shadows. But not always… you can’t quite be sure. Traynor keeps a couple of revelations up her sleeve as the novel reaches its dramatic climax.