Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Tropical glamour and gothic suspense in Chanel Cleeton's The House on Biscayne Bay

Cleeton’s dual-period mystery intermixes tropical heat and gothic chills in a satisfying way as two women, decades apart, face up to shocking truths. The glamour factor is high as Anna Barnes and Carmen Acosta each arrive at Marbrisa, a palatial Miami showpiece, but despite its ornate furnishings and beautifully manicured grounds, neither finds their new home comfortable at all.

Just after the Great War, Anna’s longtime husband, Robert, a wealthy businessman, whisks her from New York to Florida and presents her with Marbrisa as a birthday gift. Anna is a shy woman with subdued tastes; the architect notes her dismay and tries adapting it to her preferences, but just when she’s getting accustomed to her new residence, a young woman attending the Barneses’ glitzy evening gala is discovered drowned. 

In 1941, eighteen-year-old Carmen moves from Cuba after her parents’ deaths to live with her older sister Carolina and brother-in-law Asher Wyatt, Marbrisa’s new owners. Carolina, to whom Carmen was never close, seems unnaturally guarded and may be having an affair. With nowhere else to go, and Asher overseeing her inheritance, Carmen doesn’t know who to trust.

How well do we really know the people we love? This important question guides the novel’s suspense. To Anna, Robert has always been a devoted partner, but does he have secrets? Who is causing disturbances at Marbrisa in the ´40s, and how do they relate to the reasons why the house was abandoned and believed cursed?

The action moves fast, and Cleeton proves a daring writer as the plot twists unexpectedly. Alongside deadly alligators, shrieking peacocks, and fierce winds whipping off the bay, the uneasy atmosphere suits the historical backdrop, with rich northerners swooping in on undeveloped Florida land, and locals eyeing the rich interlopers with curious envy and resentment. The ending is perfect, too.

The House on Biscayne Bay was published in April by Berkley. This is the 2nd novel by Cleeton that I've read, the first being The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba.


  1. Katharine O5:03 AM

    I read and enjoyed the first in Cleeton's Perez Family series, "Next Year in Havana," which I enjoyed - that series is up to five books now. She has a nice style - I'd read more!

    1. I believe Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba is part of the series, but it's set earlier than the rest, so I'm not sure where it fits in. I'd happily read more of her work too.