The fourth book in Jean Stone’s Vineyard series, “A Vineyard Crossing,” is every bit as absorbing and moving as her previous books. And all the familiar characters are back — a whole wonderful clan by blood and friendship, each of whom has distinct characteristics. If you haven’t read the previous novels in the series — or need a refresher because you’ve read too many books in the interim — no problem. Stone deftly provides enough background that you are quickly up-to-date.
Chief among them is the protagonist, Annie Sutton, a bestselling mystery author who is just finishing her first summer as co-owner of the Vineyard Inn on Chappy. There is her fiancé, Edgartown Police Sgt. John Lyons, although their relationship gets a bit rocky when one of her guests, Simon Andrews, an internationally acclaimed television news journalist, shows up at the inn. A photo of Simon seemingly putting the moves on Annie during Illumination Night is broadcast on the website VineyardInsiders and in The New York Times, and upsets the applecart. John’s oldest teenage daughter, Abigail, is all too happy to feed the fire in the hopes of breaking Annie and John up. John takes a break from the relationship, making Annie question if indeed they should marry. Simon brings trouble to Annie’s life, though, in more and soon very disturbing ways. Trying to figure out why Simon has chosen her modest inn while supposedly doing an article brings about dire consequences.
At the same time, another guest at the inn, Mary Beth Mullen, likewise, turns out not to be whom she purports to be. With her brother away, Annie needs a new friend, and the two — despite Mary Beth’s sometimes aloof demeanor — seem to click. But Mary Beth’s presence in Annie’s life and that of her extended Island “family” soon makes things a lot more complicated. When she finds out who Mary Beth really is, she is sworn to secrecy, but an unexpected plot twist forces Annie to choose between her family and her newfound friend.
Secrets abound, and Stone slowly feeds us more and more information that keeps us turning pages all the way to the end. There are a number of “I didn’t see it coming” revelations that are particularly worth concealing.
Stone says about her plot, “The storyline for ‘A Vineyard Crossing’ simply evolved from the earlier books in the series. There are always loose ends (even tiny ones) where I can pick up the threads, weave them a bit more, and hopefully give my characters fuller, richer lives. I never figure out an ending before I finish a book. By the time thousands of words have taken shape, I trust that my characters know (better than I can) how their story should end.”
Like the other books in the series, “A Vineyard Crossing” viscerally evokes the Island. Besides Illumination Night, readers will recognize the Ag Fair, Oak Bluffs fireworks, and a beach picnic. The ferries to and from Woods Hole show up throughout the novel, “crossing” to, as she writes, what some here refer to as “America.” While we are aware throughout that the story is fictitious, Stone’s exactitude in details from the food truck at the Art Cliff Diner to the portico entrance to the emergency room at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital — let alone the craziness of tourist-filled Edgartown — reads like a love letter to her Island.
“A Vineyard Crossing” by Jean Stone, $15.95. Available at Bunch of Grapes, Edgartown Books, and online. Jean Stone will talk about the book on Zoom with the Edgartown library on Thursday, Sept. 23, at 7 pm. Register through the library’s calendar at bit.ly/38RoLs0.