Reviewed by Becky Benoit
Sometimes, I’m in the mood for an easy-reading romance novel. Nothing too literary, nothing too challenging or thought-provoking, just a decent story with a happy ending. Lighthouse Bay is just such a novel. There’s nothing particularly ground-shaking here – it’s not the kind of novel to keep you up at night flipping pages, or racing off to your book club to implore your fellow bibliophiles to read this book, now – but it’s a nice read if you’re looking for something light to read on vacation or over your lunch break.
Libby Slater is a woman with a past. Her lover of over a decade, Mark, has recently died, but Libby can’t mourn him too openly. Even at his funeral, she sits quietly in the back, trying to muffle her sobs, because a few pews ahead at the front of the church sits her lover’s wife and children, completely oblivious to the double life the man was leading. After the funeral, Libby finds it impossible to return to work in Paris, and instead finds herself drawn inexorably to the cottage Mark had purchased for the two of them in Libby’s picturesque hometown of Lighthouse Bay, on the Australian coast.
But returning home is harder than Libby expects. A terrible tragedy drove her from her home when she was 20, and fractured her relationship with her sister Juliet. Since that terrible night nearly two decades earlier, the two sisters have barely spoken. What will Juliet say to her? Will she slam the door in her face, or worse?
Despite her misgivings, Libby returns to Lighthouse Bay and the tiny cottage on the sea, and finds, amongst the shattered remnants of her relationship with her sister, a mystery to be solved.
More than 100 years ago, a ship carrying famous English jeweler Arthur Winterbourne, his wife Isabella and a priceless jeweled mace bound for the Australian Parliament was wrecked on the rocks surrounding Lighthouse Bay. According to local history, there were no survivors of the shipwreck, and the whereabouts of the mace remains unknown, enticing divers and treasure-seekers to comb the wreck searching for it.
In 1901, Isabella Winterbourne was an unhappy wife, trapped in a loveless marriage and heartsick over the death of her infant son more than three years earlier. When the ship is wrecked, Isabella manages to escape with her life, trudging for miles through hostile wilderness without food or shelter until she discovers a lighthouse and a compassionate lighthouse keeper named Matthew. Isabella refuses to reveal her identity, calling herself Mary Harrow, and she arrives with very little, except an ornate walnut box holding a precious secret.
Matthew, entranced by the lovely stranger, agrees to help her start a new life, finding her employment with a local family and promising to help her find her sister in New York. But even as he helps Mary Harrow start over, he realizes that she is no poor stranger. She’s a hunted woman, pursued by the ruthless Winterbourne family who will stop at nothing to find her and the mace.
A century later, as Libby settles into her new life, she begins to uncover clues about the shipwreck, intrigued by the links between the Winterbournes travelling on the ship, and her late boyfriend, who was also a descendant of the Winterbourne family.
As she unravels a long-buried mystery, she also finds herself embroiled in a battle between the townspeople of Lighthouse Bay, and a group of rich developers who want to turn the picturesque little village into a tourist destination. Libby finds herself forced to choose between a future for herself as a rich and independent woman, and her relationship with her sister and her hometown.
Lighthouse Bay is a pleasant read, a historical romance with a satisfying conclusion and enough drama to keep you entertained. Freeman is probably never going to be a contender for any major literary prizes, but her books are just fine when you’re looking for a quick and enjoyable departure from reality