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The Last Summer of the Camperdowns: A Novel Paperback – April 7, 2014

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Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2013: “Like my mother, I deplored all that bored me—unlike her, though, I absolved myself of any obligation to be entertaining. I might as well have been born with a pistol in my hand, firing furiously at the floor, ordering life to dance.” So twelve-year-old Riddle “Jimmy” Camperdown (named after Hoffa) slouches hostilely summerward, cultivating her role of family curmudgeon. It’s 1972. Riddle and her parents stave off boredom in their wind-whipped cliff-top estate on Cape Cod primarily by goading each other (and riding horses). Her father, Camp, relishes the thrill of working himself into a lather about the latest Vietnam atrocity. Greer, her glamorous actor mother--once the “Toast of Hollywood,” now on extended hiatus from stage and screen--simmers and smokes, perfecting lacerating one-liners. Camp remained “inexplicably in thrall to her sleek furies,” mostly about money and their lack. Their clashes get a nastier edge as Camp launches a campaign for a state House seat, and their dashing childhood chum Michael Devlin--who’d served with Camp in WWII as a sniper in Bastogne, and later jilted Greer at the altar--chooses that moment to return to town with two teenage sons and announces plans to make public incriminating details of Camp’s war service. Just as it’s dawning on Riddle that her family runs on secrets, she witnesses an act of shocking violence in a barn and--paralyzed by fear--descends into her own pit of secrecy, even when she realizes she’s the only one who knows why the younger Devlin boy is missing. Gleefully wielding the pyrotechnic wit she first flashed in her debut (Apologize, Apologize!), Elizabeth Kelly pushes the family dynamics of modern American aristocrats to near-absurd levels, throwing in a menacing stable hand, gorgeous gypsy horses that drive men mad, and a freaky, faceless doll to fine-tune the tension. In its final reckoning, what could have turned campy culminates with unexpectedly rich gravitas. --Mari Malcolm --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

The best-selling author of Apologize, Apologize! (2009) returns with another witty take on a dysfunctional family. In the summer of 1972, 12-year-old Riddle James Camperdown is thoroughly overshadowed by her charismatic parents: her ice-queen beauty of a mother, Greer, a former Hollywood actress who possesses a devastating wit, and her outgoing politician father, Camp, a liberal idealist. While her parents run Camp’s political campaign out of their rambling house on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, Riddle attempts to carve out her own space as a competitive horseback rider. But when she unintentionally witnesses a violent crime, her life is upended. Unable to confide in her parents and deathly afraid of the perpetrator, she seeks refuge in the company of 19-year-old Harry Devlin, the handsome aristocrat next door whose father harbors a secret contempt for Camp and an unrequited love for Greer. Kelly is a very entertaining writer with a digressive style and a way with metaphor, but her plot is not as finely tuned as her prose. Still, many readers will find much to like in this colorful story peopled with larger-than-life personalities. --Joanne Wilkinson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; Reprint edition (April 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871407450
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871407450
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #122,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Deborah H on June 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I wanted to like this book. After all, I broke my rule about "No digital book over $10" to purchase it. However, I soon found myself weighed down in conversations. Conversations between Riddle's parents, conversations between Riddle's mother and the neighbor, conversations between Riddle and her parents, conversations...well, you get the idea. About half-way through, I just wanted to tell everyone to be quiet!
I did finish, because I wanted to see if I'd correctly guessed the big secret...and I had. However, by the time I struggled to the end I really didn't care any more about any of the characters.
It's probably worth noting that I was hooked by the free preview and my disappointment began about half-way through the third chapter.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this memoir, Riddle is sent back to the summer of 1971, when she yearned to turn thirteen. Named after James Riddle Hoffa, she serves as our narrator on the events which occurred years ago. This is a wonderful convention in which we we view the trauma of that summer with the freshness and naïveté of the twelve year old, focused through the memory of the adult she has become.

The summer in question occurs at her parents' home in Wellfleet which is imbued with "the spirit of my aunt Kate, the one whose breath I still vividly recall as having the power to curdle my will to live." Her parents are the icy, beautiful Greer, an ex- movie star, and her father Camp, a "limousine Democrat." Gin, her mother' best friend/ enemy lives across the street. Fula is an intense stable hand who viscerally makes Riddle deeply uncomfortable. And then there is Michael Devlin who returns to Wellfleet and feels Camp's running for office is a deeply flawed idea. With him are his two sons, the older of whom seems to be fated to enmesh with Riddle.

Riddle witnesses something vaguely terrible in the barn one night, and finds out, "once you postpone doing what's right, you become part of what is wrong." This plot is taut and engrossing with exactly the right amount of mystery. The adults of Riddle's life are revealed to have ever more enmeshed pasts. Riddle is that most fleeting of creatures, a girl turning to womanhood, whose observations are saved from cutesy and condescending by the narrative of her adult self. This book explores the outcomes of unfinished business, badly ended and barely hidden. Set with a parental generation who share memories of the horror of WII who now must face the turmoil of Vietnam Nam, the wider message is hinted and evolved into the prose.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By FryLady on August 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Kindle sample of this book promised such enjoyment--but immediately past that point, the book rapidly degenerated. I'm not even sure why I bothered finishing this, except that I had nothing else to read. Among the many factors that bothered me about this book. 1) Hateful characters--in particular, the narrator's mother was such a caricature, like Karen from Will & Grace only this is supposed to be a serious book. 2) Annoying quirks like the main character being named Riddle and, although she's only 13, calling her parents by their first names. 3) Although it takes place in 1968, there seemed no reason for this, and the book really didn't seem to take place in that time frame--there were factors like a female newscaster which were unrealistic for that time. 3) No explanation of why the character of Harry is so mesmerizing to Riddle except that he's redheaded and freckled. ??? 4) Riddle witnesses a murder and then never tells anyone, which is maddening. She spends the whole book crying, arguing with her parents in increasingly unrealistic dialogue and being creeped out by the spooky caretaker, but never takes action -- she just freezes every time he's around. Really, there are too many problems with this book to enumerate. The entire family situation seemed completely unrealistic, the parents were absolutely selfish and horrible, and the main character was a blithering mess. If you want to read a good book about secrets, crime and growing up, read To Kill a Mockingbird and don't waste your time on this. The end did have two surprise twists, but they were not worth the slog through this book.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By christie on June 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Such a great book! Set in the summer of 1972, 12 year old Riddle Camperdown (named after Jimmy Hoffa) is daughter of a retired actress, Greer and an up and coming politician, Camp.

In a small, picturesque town on Cape Cod, the Camperdown's live across the road from Gin, the local gossip hound, horse breeder, and his mysterious stable manager Gula.

The long gone "international playboy and renowned horseman" Michael Devlin and his sons return to Cape Cod, bringing with them secrets and tragedy.

Riddle spends her summer riding horses, reading alone in her room, making friends with the dashing Devlin boy, and debating the price of truth. Living as the only child of two strong-willed, eclectic parents is a daily challenge, but when she witnesses a crime, her life starts into a spiral she struggles to escape from.

I don't want to give away anymore, but if you like mysteries, and books set it the idealistic 70's, run out and get this. The characters are engaging, with witty, smart conversation. This is a book I'd enjoy seeing as a play or movie.

A beautifully written and gripping story. I was hooked from the first chapter.
(And I love the cover design.)
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