The Castways by Elin Hildebrand

Greg and Tess McAvoy have drowned in a sailing outing that they have undertaken to celebrate their twelfth wedding anniversary.  Greg was not a very experienced sailor and Tess wasn’t a very good swimmer- often afraid of the water.  While it’s possible that they drowned in what was a tragic accident, Chief of Police Ed Kapenash isn’t so sure.  There is the troubling presence of narcotics in Tess’s blood stream coupled with numerous calls to her phone from another man.  There’s also Greg’s mysterious involvement with bombshell teenager April Peck which had threatened to torpedo the marriage only months before.  In the aftermath of Greg and Tess’s death their friends must find their way through their grief and  guilt  to raise the seven-year-old twins that have been left behind.

The cover for The Castaways is a bit misleading because it suggests a lighthearted summer read.  I expected to enjoy this book, but I ended up loving it not for the reasons I expected and not because it was lighthearted and fun.  The story takes place on the island of Nantucket at the height of beach and tourist season and that’s about as far as the similarity to the cover goes. The relationships explored within the context of the story are rich, layered and complicated.  The Police Chief’s job investigating the deaths of Greg and Tess is mired down by his own relationship to the couple and all of their friends.  He is married to Andrea, Tess’s cousin.  Andrea is the ex-lover of Jeffrey, who still carries a bit of a torch for her, though he is married to Delilah- Greg’s close friend and champion.  Greg’s best friend is Addison a wealthy real estate mogul married to to the fragile Phoebe who is also great friends with Delilah, and then all of them have been friends with each other for the last 20 years.

The narrative alternates between the six remaining friends as they explore their grief  and each comes to terms with the tragedy and the guilty secret they think could have prevented the entire thing as they look back on their relationships in the last twenty years.  Even though there are six characters, Hilderbrand does a wonderful job of engaging the reader while she quickly introduces each of them so that you really get to know all of then better and figure out all the ways that they relate to each other and how the characters came to reside on Nantucket Island.  The exploration of grief is thoroughly absorbing as each of them grieves in a different way and misses very particular things about their friends as they realize how their absence affects the dynamics of all of their friendships.  As the drama of the past comes to light, we come to understand what really happened between Greg and Tess on the night that they drowned.

This book was truly engrossing and well written- like watching a good soap opera.  I was surprised by the depth of the characterization and the seriousness of the subject matter.  The complex relationships between the characters were thoughtful and movingly observed.  The characters were strong and really themselves. I didn’t really relate to anyone but they were so well fleshed out that I got to feel as if I knew them. Their actions made sense within the context of their life experiences and situations.  The plot unfolded at just the right pacing that I was always discovering new things even as  new questions came up, and of course I was always trying to figure out what happened to everyone’s favorite couple. I loved all the intricacy and the mystery and the slow unfolding drama.  What a great read!

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