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‘It Happened on St. John’ a tale of community, music and loss

  • “It Happened on St. John”



For the Recorder
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wilson Roberts lives in Greenfield, but has a second home on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. His latest novel, “It Happened on St. John,” is a tale of community, music and loss in his adopted community.

It’s also a mystery — although the mystery becomes less and less important as the book develops. That mystery involves the disappearance (and perhaps murder; no one is quite sure) of an unsavory couple named Ashlee Baker and Howard Winslow.

These con artists have been busy in recent months running a scheme in which they convinced investors in the U.S. mainland to fund a fancy marina complex on St. John that would include giant yachts, a luxury shopping mall and more.

The marina never got off the ground; indeed, it was never more than a scam. Baker and Winslow have made quite a few enemies in the process of pretending that it might be built, however, from their investors to just about everyone in the small community of Coral Bay.

One of their sharpest critics is Miss Anna Fenmire, the 70-something owner of the slightly ramshackle but popular Coral Bay Deli.

When the deli is burned to the ground, local police officers and everyone else immediately suspect Baker and Winslow. They are unavailable for questioning, however, having disappeared.

The community springs into action to help Miss Anna. Local businesses and musicians organize a “love fest” to fund the rebuilding of the deli.

Baker and Winslow aren’t precisely forgotten, but as the rebuilding effort takes root, members of the community who have been obsessed with hate and revenge are healed by the power of music and community.

The second in a projected trilogy, “It Happened on St. John” brings back several characters in Roberts’ previous novel, “Murder in Coral Bay.” In general, however, it focuses on a new cast of characters, particularly a musical group made up of older men who are at turning points in their lives.

One is reconsidering his love of solitude. Another yearns for a young female musician who has just come to the island. A third is terrified of the headaches that threaten him; he fears he has a brain tumor.

Their stories are interwoven with those of the local police officers, of a zealously religious woman who begins to doubt her faith, and of a young tourist who is finding his voice.

Reading “It Happened on St. John,” it is easy to get caught up in this community and to care about the characters who inhabit it. The reader eventually finds out what happens to Ashlee Baker and Howard Winslow, but they aren’t really the focus of the story.

That focus is love: of the people on the island for each other, and of Wilson Roberts for his second home. Those loves seem even more precious when one realizes that the book is set shortly before hurricanes Irma and Maria brought devastation to St. John.

As Roberts’ companion book of poetry, “… Before the Storm” shows, it is also set shortly before he lost the love of his life to cancer in February 2018. The poems share many of the preoccupations of the novel. Both books touched my heart, but also made me smile.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.