The disappearance of a Tampa Bay blue blood rattles the skeletons in his family's closet. In Johnson's first novel, it's the summer of 1972, and Daniel Westcott, 68, has been named king of the pirates, to be crowned at the annual Gasparilla Queen's Party. But Westcott, who has never missed a Queen's Party, fails to attend his own coronation, and his enigmatic absence prompts an uneasy homecoming of his grandchildren, Becca, 21, an aspiring Broadway musical actress, and her estranged...
In Johnson's first novel, it's the summer of 1972, and Daniel Westcott, 68, has been named king of the pirates, to be crowned at the annual Gasparilla Queen's Party. But Westcott, who has never missed a Queen's Party, fails to attend his own coronation, and his enigmatic absence prompts an uneasy homecoming of his grandchildren, Becca, 21, an aspiring Broadway musical actress, and her estranged brother, Kurt. Their addled mother, Julia, lives on the family estate and is considered by most to be "more than a little 'touched' in the head." The early '70s setting, with references to the Vietnam War protests and the Kent State shootings, reflects the inner turmoil of the Westcott family. As the search for the patriarch unfolds, the mystery deepens. Can it be related to an old financial scandal? Were he and his boat seized by smugglers? Was it a hallucination or did Julia see her mother, Natalie, shoot her father? "Trust me: he's alive," a friend consoles Becca. "But what he's up to now has the whole town guessing." And the reader, too. But, as Becca predicts at one point: "The truth will be known." Johnson writes with a vivid sense of place ("The breeze off the bay was sweet, heavy with the scent of confederate jasmine") and offers a Wolfe-ian (as in Tom, but without the stylistic brio) portraiture of '70s-era Tampa Bay high society. "Much of the town's old wealth was dwindling," she writes of the Westcotts' once-grand estate. "Those in that circumstance took pride in the quiet beauty of a home's chipped and weathered features. They went so far as to scoff at the nouveau riche with their freshly painted soffits and shutters." The family dysfunction compellingly plays like something out of a Douglas Sirk melodrama, like Written on the Wind, complete with hidden agendas, ghosts, revelatory family diaries, and deepest, darkest secrets. The author populates this forlorn family's saga with a breadth of memorable characters who occupy disparate rungs on Tampa Bay society's ladder, including Eula and Niobe, the family's longtime caretaker and her daughter, and Police Chief Feo Salazar, who knows a thing or two about Westcott's more unsavory predilections.
A gripping tale of a missing patriarch in 1970's Florida; an auspicious debut.
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Nautical twists abound as King Daniel excites with its page-turning thrills and familial revelations. Against a colorful backdrop of pirates, family secrets, and intrigue, Susan Wolf Johnson's King Daniel shines as a literary lighthouse on rocky shores.
When Daniel Westcott, the newly chosen Gasparilla King of Tampa Bay, Florida, goes missing in 1973, the remaining Westcotts are thrown into chaos. Natalie, Daniel's wife and the matriarch of the household, struggles to maintain appearances amidst the mystery. She is supported by her granddaughter, Becca, a wandering soul who had escaped to New York to pursue a singing career on Broadway, only to be drawn back into the strange hierarchical world of Gasparilla pirate krewes.
Though it seems Daniel may have been "kingnapped" by local drug smugglers, the truth may be more complex than anyone realizes. Becca gradually uncovers her family's secret, sordid history, leading to revelations that will forever impact her and the other members of the Westcott family.
Beautifully crafted, the novel maintains some shred of mystery almost until the final chapters. Subtle clues are scattered throughout to allow a piecing together of the true nature of the Westcott family's history along with Becca. There is no central protagonist here. Rather, the family itself occupies that role, with outsiders serving in supporting roles throughout. Victor, while one of these outsiders, is especially developed and serves to anchor Becca's—and by extension, the rest of the Westcotts'—tendencies toward flightiness. Though Becca and the rest of the family must wrestle with loss in various ways—loss of innocence, loss of life, loss of self—there is a strong thread of redemption that runs underneath the tragedy and elevates the narrative out of potentially pure cynicism...
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This intriguing novel centers on the disappearance of Daniel, the newly anointed ceremonial king of Gasparilla, a series of pirate-themed festivities similar to Mardi Gras but held in Tampa.
The author does a great job with character development for Daniel's family: his distraught and distracted wife, Natalie; his mentally-challenged daughter, Julia; and his pregnant, unwed granddaughter, Becca. The story unfolds slowly, with a huge array of characters and a narrator who speaks directly to the reader rather than fading into the background. The mystery surrounding what happened to Daniel takes a back seat to the internal strife each of the characters battles.
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In this thriller, Susan Wolf Johnson delivers an ambitious, sprawling melodrama about the bitter end of a Southern patriarch and the damage a family can inflict on itself for generations.
The novel is firmly rooted in the time, place and culture of 1972 Tampa Bay, Florida, around the time of the (real-life) Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Modeled after Mardi Gras, this distinctly Floridian celebration allows the town's high society to throw lavish parties, elect kings and queens, and celebrate their "krewes" during a massive parade.
On the eve of the festival, one of the town's most well-known rogues, Daniel Westcott, has gone missing. His disappearance leaves dark repercussions for his clan, including his bitter wife Natalie, slightly barmy daughter Julia, and troubled grandkids, Becca and Kurt. Eventually, it's revealed that the inveterate gambler has lost the family fortune and gotten involved with a drug smuggler, although whether Daniel was an accomplice or a kidnap victim is never fully established.
Becca (already coping with an unwanted pregnancy) unearths a trove of diaries that slowly reveal the long, complicated history of her troubled family. With its machinations, family secrets, a sudden revelation about a long-lost, family member and the occasional unreliable narrator, this subterranean plot becomes a bit far-fetched. Additionally, the prose becomes overwrought from time to time. "It was the blood!" Johnson writes. "Bound to secrecy! All those Westcotts have hidden lust, and pirates, and babies and mothers... Now another masquerade was about to take place. Wasn't there anyone who could stop this?" That said, Johnson's rich language is perfectly suited to the novel's tone and theatrical dialogue.
While the novel won't appeal to all thriller fans, readers who enjoy classics such as the gothic fiction of V.C. Andrews will likely find rich rewards in this tale.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.
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