A woman and her young son, a mysterious but generous man whose intentions are unclear, a local business owner and teacher with a kind heart, and the wealthy vacationers who take over Southampton in the summer months—all are characters in Holly Peterson’s newest novel It Happens in the Hamptons, an easy read with many twists, deep-rooted histories and scandals. The characters are vibrant and believable, though sometimes stereotypical. With little clues along the way, Peterson takes the reader on a journey into Southampton, ending with a climax that is enthralling and almost unforeseeable.
Though the novel starts out slow, with a brief introduction to the different characters to be followed, it picks up gradually and becomes a read that is both easy to follow and entertaining. Katie Doyle, the principal character, is strong and warm, with a bit of naiveté. She is alone after her mother passes away, taking care of her young son, Huck. Katie then meets George, and decides to take a leap of faith and follow him from her West Coast town to Southampton for the summer. An outsider’s perspective of the daily Hamptons chaos is both humorous and captivating. Peterson does well introducing the environment Katie has found herself in with a blending of disapproval and awe that feels realistic and relatable. Although the way Peterson represents the wealthy feels a bit stereotypical and judgmental through Katie’s eyes, it serves well to create the divisive atmosphere necessary to keep the plot going.
At the center of the plot, and Katie’s new life are two men, George and Luke. George is a man from the city who spends his summers at the Southampton country club that is wrapped around his finger. He is both a gentleman and mysterious as he disappears and reappears often from Katie’s new life on the East Coast, which he has helped set up for her. George’s character is distant compared to the others in the novel, but it soon becomes clear that he is not only George but two other characters who are introduced early in the novel as well, two of whom are living very different lives from the man Katie knows. Peterson leaves little clues along the way hinting that George is not all that he appears to be without revealing his true, full identity. Peterson’s use of George’s storyline leaves the reader wanting more as each character’s story merges leading to the climax of the novel, with him at the center of the chaos.
The character of Luke is engaging as he complicates Katie Doyle’s summer plans with his charisma and laid back demeanor. Much the opposite of George’s put-together, old money vibe, Luke owns the water sports camp with his womanizing friend Kona, and is smitten with Katie the moment he lays eyes on her. The two have chemistry that jumps off the page, and leaves the reader rooting for the pair who remain at arm’s length for most of the novel. Luke represents Katie’s comfort zone, a local teacher with a side business among the wealthy vacationers who tend to make Katie feel uncomfortable and at times inferior. The love triangle that ensues between Katie, George and Luke becomes complicated further as the history between George and Luke is revealed, and Katie is forced to see the truth behind the façade of the man she traveled across the country for.
In a read perfect for a summer day at the beach, Peterson creates a world in which an outsider is welcomed into the East Coast elite, but discovers it isn’t as luxurious or awe inspiring as one might think. With scandals, sex and politics polluting the dichotomous community of Southampton, there is both the suspense of a mystery novel and the calming comfort of a romance. Much like Southampton itself, this novel is not all that it appears to be: It is so much more.
Holly Peterson will be reading from It Happens in the Hamptons at Friday, June 16 at BookHampton, 41 Main Street, East Hampton. Call 631-324-4939 or visit bookhampton.com for more information.