The first great beach read of the summer has arrived – Kate White’s The Fiancée. The former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, White knows only too well how the relationships between women play out, within families or careers. One interloper can upset a balance and result in disaster or, in this case, death.
Summer is looking forward to spending a week’s vacation at her husband, Gabe’s, family home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Gabe’s parents, Ash and Claire Keaton, have done well for themselves and live on a sprawling estate with a large mansion, a carriage house, and a cottage along with a pool, tennis courts, a greenhouse, and beautiful flower and vegetable gardens. Each July, the entire Keaton family gets together for a week of fun and relaxation that includes swimming, badminton, biking, hikes, and plenty of wonderful dinners, usually enjoyed outside under the stars.
For Summer, the road trip with Gabe and his nine year-old son, Henry, begins on a sour note. Still trying to move ahead in her career, Summer earns most of her money from voice-over work, while continuing to fine tune a play that has gained admission to a festival. That morning, she read the audio version of a best-selling collection by a “hot shot” writer. Unfortunately, the author was at the session and Summer could tell by the woman’s facial expressions that she disliked what she was hearing.
She might have been able to shake off the experience, but when she arrives at the Keatons, she meets Hannah, also an actress, who is dating Nick, one of Gabe’s brothers. Summer recognizes Hannah from a playwriting showcase they did two years ago. But when she mentions that they’ve met, Hannah looks puzzled, telling Summer she’s never done a showcase and, in fact, rarely does theater, focusing on film work. Summer makes the mistake of asking “like what?” When Hannah responds that she’s just filmed a pilot for Netflix that will be greenlighted soon, Summer has trouble pasting a smile on her face.
Summer receives confirmation that Hannah lied about the showcase in a phone call with Billy Dean, a notorious gossip, who was also there. Perhaps Hannah wants to forget “the whole nasty experience,” he says, revealing that “a shitstorm” ensued after Hannah took “a wad of cash” from another actress.
Hannah’s lie is just one thing that has Summer on edge. Before meeting Nick, Hannah dated Nick’s twin brother, Marcus, who is now married to Kiera. But is Marcus really over Hannah? Kiera isn’t sure and Summer can’t help but notice Marcus studying Hannah whenever she’s nearby.
When Summer tries to tell Gabe about her encounter with Hannah, he dismisses her concerns, implying that Summer is envious that another actress is doing well while her career is stalled. His remark stings, because if Summer is honest, she is jealous and struggling. She should spend time polishing her play, but can’t seem to focus.
Gabe is wrong about one thing though, that Nick’s fling with Hannah won’t last. After the first family dinner, Gabe’s other brother, Blake, and his wife, Wendy, announce they are expecting, after many years of trying. While their happy news should have ended the evening, Nick steals the spotlight with the news that he and Hannah are engaged, even though they’ve only been dating for two months.
Summer realizes that future gatherings will include Hannah, a woman she neither likes nor trusts. But things go from bad to worse when a family member is found dead and Summer believes she overheard an argument that could give Hannah a motive to kill.
White, who has written more than a dozen mysteries (eight in the popular Bailey Weggins series), as well as five non-fiction career books for women, is at the top of her game. Her characters are well drawn and her descriptions make it easy to envision the Keaton compound, as well as the lavish spreads laid out by matriarch Claire and her helper, Bonnie. Pack the beach towels and the sunscreen and don’t forget this fun read.
Top photo of Kate White – Photo Credit Jordan Matter