By Beatriz Williams
Author Website: beatrizwilliams.com
Burdened by a dark family secret, Virginia Fortescue flees her oppressive home in New York City for the battlefields of World War I France. While an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, she meets a charismatic British army surgeon whose persistent charm opens her heart to the possibility of love. As the war rages, Virginia falls into a passionate affair with the dashing Captain Simon Fitzwilliam, only to discover that his past has its own dark secrets—secrets that will damage their eventual marriage and propel her back across the Atlantic to the sister and father she left behind.
Five years later, in the early days of Prohibition, the newly widowed Virginia Fitzwilliam arrives in the tropical boomtown of Cocoa Beach, Florida, to settle her husband’s estate. Despite the evidence, Virginia does not believe Simon perished in the fire that destroyed the seaside home he built for her and their young daughter. Separated from her husband since the early days of their marriage, the headstrong Virginia plans to uncover the truth, for the sake of the daughter Simon never met.
Simon’s brother and sister welcome her with open arms and introduce her to a dazzling new world of citrus groves, white beaches, bootleggers, and Prohibition agents. But Virginia senses a predatory presence lurking beneath the irresistible, hedonistic surface of this coastal oasis. The more she learns about Simon and his mysterious business interests, the more she fears that the dangers that surrounded Simon now threaten her and their daughter’s life as well. (Goodreads)
Beatriz William’s universe is always rich in lush descriptions and intriguing characters. Cocoa Beach is the third book taking place in the morally ambiguous Prohibition Era when jazz and bootlegging were king. Featuring characters that make appearances in both A Certain Age and The Wicked City, this time around we follow Virginia Fitzwilliam as she deals with the secrets of her own youth and the ramifications of her husband Simon’s betrayal. Weightier than the average summer beach read, this page-turner is sure to provide hours of escapist reading.
Cocoa Beach unfolds from alternating time periods, France during World War I and Florida in 1922. Desperate to escape her family’s dark secret, Virginia joins the war effort as an ambulance driver in France. There she meets the very dashing and charming British Army surgeon Simon Fitzwilliam, and, though she is warned that he is quite the ladies man and that there are rumors that he has a wife and child at home in England, the two soon find themselves engulfed in a passionate affair. Once the war is over, the two newlyweds return to Simon’s family home where Simon’s own secrets come to light and Virginia flees to her father and sister in New York. Fast forward a few years, and Virginia receives word that her husband has perished in a fire, and she travels to Florida with her toddler daughter Evelyn to settle his affairs. There she finds herself tangled in a web of more lies and deceit. Is Simon really dead? Can she believe all that her brother-in-law Samuel says? Or, for that matter, her sister-in-law Clara’s confidences? Is anyone really what they seem?
Cocoa Beach is enthralling reading. We do not know for most of the book if Simon is a cad or a decent, loving man. This, and the other “what ifs”, compelled me to keep reading so that I could figure it all out. There is steady tension throughout the book, helped along by the shifting time periods, that adds to sense of urgency, and the story slowly builds to an exciting climax. I admit that it does drag a bit in the middle while Virginia is recovering from a hit on the head in 1922, but her ill state is an integral part of the story. She does eventually emerge from her malaise, and the tale’s pace picks back up.
Virginia is initially a bit lackluster, both scarred by her mother’s murder and naïve at the same time. However, by the time she heads to Florida she is mature, strong, and comfortable with herself. Not knowing Simon’s heart and motivations throughout the book is almost painful. I really wanted to believe the things that he confessed in his unsent letters to Virginia during their separation, but that niggling of doubt was never far from the surface. Samuel and Clara are very different from Simon and Virginia, but the question of their honesty also provides plenty of uncertainty and suspicion. Of course, they all can be a little melodramatic, but, for me, this just adds to the enjoyment. I did not see the final big plot twist coming, and I always like being surprised.
I adored Cocoa Beach, and highly recommend it to fans of Beatriz Williams and historical fiction with plenty of twists and turns.