My friend Todd Jones stops in at Bacon today to recommend a novel that is part Downton Abbey, part psychological thriller, deliciously dread-inducing, big-question-asking, AND set in Bora Bora… anyone need a summer read? Bonus: it’s now in paperback!

From Todd Jones: Something in the Water is the first novel written by Catherine Steadman, a British actress you may know from her role as the beautiful Mabel Lane Fox in Downton Abbey. Steadman is also quite adept with words, which makes this already successful actress someone to watch.

Steadman chooses to have the main character serve as narrator in this suspense tale of a newly wed couple. Erin and Mark are an attractive couple planning to marry, when Mark suddenly loses his job as an investment banker, and can’t find another suitable position during a downturn in the economy. They pare back on their rather extravagant plans for the wedding, but have already paid for a honeymoon trip to Bora Bora.

On the honeymoon, they find “something in the water,” and that something changes everything, and drives the story. What they find holds the potential to solve the immediate financial pressures they are facing, so they both begin to wonder what it would mean if they could keep what is clearly not theirs. Erin lets us in on her own thinking, often weighing the kind of married life she dreams of, and yet also making one decision after another that puts the two of them in peril. Mark is making the same kinds of decisions, and soon greed and guilt are in the driver’s seat of their lives. As the two of them plot to cash in on their discovery, they quickly find themselves in over their heads, and inevitably make some mistakes.

This is one of those novels where you fall quickly for the characters and find yourself rooting for them, even though what they are trying to do is illegal, unethical and involves one really bad decision after another. Will they get away with their complicated, compromising efforts to set themselves up for the futures they yearn to realize?

Steadman begins her novel with this sentence: “Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave?” You know from the start that things have not gone well in this story that is about to unfold, so you find yourself turning the pages to discover the who, what, where, why and how, all with a sense of dread. The more you fall in love with the characters, the more this dread builds.

At one level, this is simply a well written suspense novel, a page turner. At another level, though, it is a story that opens up a host of other important questions. How well do you ever really know someone? And what enables you to tell right from wrong when you are sorely tempted to blur the lines? Where is that line in someone’s life that they simply and surely will never cross? And maybe most important, how certain are you that you can trust someone else? Marriages live and breathe on the basis of trust. Except when they don’t.

Catherine Steadman has written a really fine first novel. If you enjoy British sensibilities, dry British humor, and people who are capable of searching their own souls for what is true and real, then you will savor this novel. She tells a riveting story well, and when I finished, I was quite glad that I followed my wife Connie’s advice in reading it. It left me eager to read Steadman’s next novel, which is one of the best compliments you can pay an author.  

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Todd Jones recently retired as Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Nashville. Does retirement suit him?

“Retirement suits me just fine! I loved every day I served the church as a Pastor, and I have loved retirement as well. Connie and I have time for family, friends and each other, and a freedom in our schedule that we never knew.

The painful part is having to step back from the privileged role of being the pastor and leader of First Presbyterian Church, so another can fill that role. Sitting through funerals for folks I have loved, and not being able to preside at them, is the single hardest thing.

This summer, we will spend time at our lake home, spend a week at the church in Linville, NC, and take a trip to Maine. We will also have grandchildren visiting!”

From the look of things, I’d say that he’s wearing retirement well…


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Report from my yard…

The oak leaf hydrangeas glow

but I believe I prefer the shade of the sycamore tree.

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