Michael Ledwidge proved his writing chops as with James Patterson he cowrote the super successful Michael Bennett detective series. His talent makes “Beach Wedding” work as an action-filled murder mystery that also is engaging because of the connections we feel to the characters—certainly a result of his fine writing. In it, we meet the Rourkes, a working class family living it up for a month in the Hamptons. When a brother, who has become a wealthy hedge fund manager, is getting married, he rents a huge mansion on the beach for several reasons.
He wants to impress his bride’s very proper British family, he wants to treat his family to some luxury, and he wants to thumb his nose at those who reside on this ultra-snobby, beach-front and mansion-filled street. Those people looked down on him and his family when they were growing up as townies. Living in the mansion becomes the impetus for the groom-to-be’s brother, Philly cop Terry Rourke, to investigate a crime that occurred on this posh street when he was still in high school. Wealthy Noah Sutton was murdered the morning after a huge 4th of July party at his lavish Hampton estate. Terry Rourke feels connected to that long-ago murder on several levels.
As a senior in high school, in spite of his youth, Terry was asked to sub for his brother and help bartend at the event. He jumped at the chance to see the rich and famous, and he was thrilled to see his favorite author there. But the next morning, Noah Sutton was found murdered, shot twice in the head. His young wife was nowhere to be seen. Terry’s father, the local Assistant District Attorney, prosecuted the young widow, who was charged with the murder of her husband. We learn early on that, especially in the Hamptons, money will buy anything. That kind of money. The evidence against the widow mysteriously disappears from the police station leaving Rourke senior to do the best he could at trial, but the result is a mistrial. It’s difficult to convict with little physical evidence, especially when the main witness, Mrs. Sutton’s maid, recants her testimony on the stand, claiming a priest told her to tell the truth. There is a mistrial. Rourke senior dies in an apparent boating accident before a decision is made regarding a retrial, and now, decades later, Mrs. Sutton still has the same mansion, and the local cops are still very much in the Suttons’ pocket.
Now Rourke learns that the current District Attorney and the chief of the county police department are as crooked as can be. And by virtue of being at this fabulous beach estate, Rourke accidentally finds an unfinished manuscript by that same best-selling author who had attended that long-ago party that leads him to a treasure trove of information about the murder. As he investigates, he is drawn further and further into the mystery of what happened decades before. There are people who do not want the truth uncovered, and they will stop at nothing to make sure that it all stays buried. He worries not only about the danger he is putting himself in, but also his family. Rourke finds out hard truths about what really happened all those years ago resulting in Noah Sutton’s murder and its violent aftermath. He finds out that the maid who changed her testimony now lives in a multi-million dollar mansion in Florida with many luxury cars at her disposal.
The title “Beach Wedding” is very telling and very important as it’s because of the wedding, and their lengthy stay at this luxurious mansion on the beach, that Terry Rourke is led to evidence that he believes will prove that Hailey Sutton did, in fact, murder her husband. The action fills the pages even as we also get to witness Rourke’s relationship with his extended Irish family, including his brothers, his mother, his 6-month-pregnant wife and his young daughter. We learn about how their father’s death impacted them because after his death, the family was shunned. One brother’s life was irreparably harmed when he was unable to get a recommendation letter from their local congressman (or anyone else) which would have enabled him to attend West Point. Jobs they had worked weekends and summers were suddenly filled. People ignored them.
The question, then, becomes whether Rourke will find out the truth before the truth does him in. Of course, being that the novel is not and is not meant to be a profoundly disturbing or thought-provoking literary piece but simply an enjoyable and engaging novel about a hard-boiled cop and a decades old murder mystery, we know that Rourke will live to the end. But what we don’t expect is the final twist in the plot that upends everything that we — and Rourke — thought was fact. It’s a very satisfying read, one that will keep you turning the pages and actually caring about the outcome.
Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.