The House on Biscayne Bay

Image of The House on Biscayne Bay
Release Date: 
April 2, 2024
Reviewed by: 

“Cleeton unfolds the story in a way that grabs the reader and keeps the suspense going . . . “

Chanel Cleeton opens her recent novel, The House on Biscayne Bay, with a sentence that grabs the reader. “I cannot for the life of me imagine why anyone would want to live in Florida.”

As the chapter progresses, the answer becomes cloudy. Anna Barnes’s husband, Robert, has built this house as a gift for Anna. The problem is, he is enamored with South Florida; Anna, however, is not.

America is marching into the 1920s—the Great War has just ended, and the Florida boom is just getting started. Anyone who wants to make money fast is looking to Florida to accomplish that dream. Anna would prefer to remain in New York—an unlikely solution to her problem.

The house is extravagant. Robert’s goal is to have the biggest, most exclusive home anywhere in South Florida, and he is working feverishly with his architect, Michael Harrison, to make that happen. Anna doesn’t care much for Michael, but as the story unfolds, he begins to grow on her. And just as the reader begins to wonder if there is more to Biscayne Bay, Chapter Two arrives.

Enter Carmen Acosta. It is 1939. Carmen has recently lost her parents to a devasting accident. She is 19 years old and her brother-in-law Asher has been assigned as her guardian until she is of age to get her inheritance.

Carmen arrives from Cuba by water. “Off in the distance, the shoreline beckons, the estate coming into view ahead . . . I think I’m going to like Florida.”

And so Cleeton takes the reader on a roller coaster ride moving from Anna in one chapter to Carmen in another. Both stories are told in the first person, pulling the reader into the experiences of these women.

The story moves back to Anna, and tragedy strikes when a woman dies at a party thrown by Robert and Anna. Police Detective Pierce is convinced that Robert murdered her. No proof, just theory. Cleeton has designed Detective Pierce as a long-time Floridian who does not appreciate the influx of newly arrived wealthy people whom he feels are destroying the simple life so many Floridians enjoy.

Indeed, Detective Pierce tries his best to blame Robert for the death. Unfortunately, that does not work. Before long, Anna meets the same fate . . .  or does she? Although Detective Pierce extends his investigations into two deaths at the house and as he begins to point the finger at Robert for Anna’s death, Robert dies before the case can be solved.

So what is the thread that connects these two stories? The two women have different views of the house, “Marbrisa,” and it doesn’t take long before both women realize that there is something about the house that spells disaster.

As Carmen slowly adjusts to life in Florida without her parents, and with a sister, Carolina, who wants nothing to do with her, she meets George, the head gardener. Not someone Carolina or Asher would see her developing a friendship with, but Carmen is an independent young woman and she sees a companion in George. She learns of Anna’s death by drowning many years earlier, and George is able to fill in some details.

But life takes another turn when Carolina is murdered, and Detective Pierce—older and wiser, but still with an attitude, is assigned to investigate. His approach has not changed and he is convinced Asher is the guilty party.

As Carmen begins her own investigation, she begins to wonder about Asher and if he has an involvement in the event.

It’s at this point that Cleeton throws a wrench into the works with a twist the reader will not expect. Kudos to Cleeton for doing this. This turn of events brings the whole story around full circle.

The House on Biscayne Bay is well worth the read. Cleeton unfolds the story in a way that grabs the reader and keeps the suspense going until the very end.