Light on Fire Island by Marlene Bateman is not an ordinary historical novel. It combines the best elements of a genre novel with the best elements of a literary novel. The plot is filled with twists and turns, mystery, romance, and suspense.
The characters are drawn with care and the reader watches them, particularly Celena Jackson, grow and evolve from a hurt, angry young girl to a confident, caring woman. Many of the secondary characters are also complex and intriguing.
This story takes place during the mid-1920s, during America’s prohibition days, on a small island along the Atlantic coast called Fire Island. The romantic setting and details of an old kerosene-operated lighthouse signal light provide an unusual setting for mystery and suspense.
Celena’s father operates the lighthouse, as his father did before him and as her younger brother plans to do in the future, until her father is injured in a fall while painting the side of the lighthouse. Celena’s young brother calls her and pleads for her to come home to help him.
Here’s where Celena faces a problem. Five years earlier her father ordered her to leave because of her involvement with the Mormon Church. She left the island with no money and no hope of seeing her family again. Her maternal grandparents in Maryland took her in. They disliked her father and objected when their daughter married the lighthouse keeper.
Now she doesn’t wish to jeopardize her job working for a law firm, but she promised her mother before her death that she would help her brother and try to understand her father. Having been expelled from the island, she has had no opportunity to keep that promise.
On returning to the island, she discovers her brother expects her stay to be permanent, she begins to suspect her father’s accident was no accident, and there are strange happenings on the island that concern the lighthouse. Three individuals are determined to see the lighthouse closed, then purchase it for their own purposes. Two men make their interest in her apparent and she has strong feelings for both. She also discovers some of her old friends aren’t who she once believed them to be, and there’s an active liquor-smuggling trade taking place on the island. She doesn’t know whom to trust.
There are a few inconsistencies in the story, such as her continued relationship with her eleven-year-old brother while her grandparents are preventing mail and calls from reaching her.
This book is rich in detail, allowing the reader to almost feel the wind and sand, the pounding surf, the gulls, and boardwalks. Along with the suspense and romance, there’s a story of reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness. It’s a novel that will not be easily forgotten by those who read it and readers of all ages and either gender will enjoy it.
Light on Fire Island by Marlene Bateman, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 305 pages, $16.99