Published June 27, 2017
Burdened by a dark family secret, Virginia Fortescue flees her oppressive home in New York City for the battlefields of World War I France. Driving an ambulance 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’d left behind.Beatriz Williams is one of my go-to authors, so I eagerly snatched up her latest book, Cocoa Beach. Taking a briefly-mentioned character from a previous novel, Williams has crafted a story of love, lies, and betrayal.
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 has 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 surrounding Simon now threaten her and their daughter’s life as well. - from Goodreads
To escape her life in New York, Virginia Fortescue heads to France to become an ambulance driver in WWI, where she meets Simon Fitzwilliam, a charming British doctor. Soon after they marry, though, Virginia discovers that Simon has lied to her about many things, and she flees back to the United States. A couple years later, she is notified that Simon has died in a house fire in Florida and has left his entire estate to her. When she goes to Florida to settle his affairs, she is confronted with a danger she never saw coming.
The story is told in a dual narrative, both from Virginia's point of view, with the first showing her meeting and marrying Simon and the second showing her time in Florida. Sometimes it was hard to believe that it was the same character in both narratives; the younger Virginia is naïve, falling head over heels for the duplicitous Simon. The older Virginia is a take-charge, no-nonsense mother.
I disliked Simon's character from the beginning. Although he may come across as charming, I found him to be smarmy in the flashback chapters. He's the type of man that acts first and apologizes later; he didn't seem sincere, and he lied to Virginia about so many things. I didn't blame her when she bolted just days after their wedding. He tried to make things right by moving to Florida and starting a business to provide for his family, but really, he ended up putting Virginia and her daughter in danger because of the highly illegal rum-running he got involved in. Although he was maybe a bit redeemed by the actions of other characters, particularly his brother Samuel, I never had a good feeling about him.
The story moved at a slow pace and some of the writing was overly poetic. Things ramped up a bit at the end, when Virginia discovers that Simon's siblings haven't been truthful with her, and there is sort of an underlying tension throughout the novel, like when you feel like someone is watching you. I've been waiting for Beatriz Williams to dazzle me again like she did with her earlier novels; however, this didn't do it for me, and I was especially disappointed with where Virginia wound up in the end.