A review of Peregrine Island by Diane B. Saxton

Reviewed by Ruth Latta

Peregrine Island
by Diane B. Saxton
She Writes Press
2016, ISBN 978-1631521515, Paperback: 288 pages

“It’s a strange thing about family,” says Jake, one of the characters in Peregrine Island. “You spend all your days trying to get away from them and then they’re all you really want.” Jake’s words crystallize the main theme of Peregrine Island, a complex psychological mystery centring on three generations of women living in a family mansion on an island in Long Island Sound. Isolated from the world and alienated from each other, they find their life shaken up when their heirloom painting stirs the interest of prominent men in the art world.

Winter Peregrine, long divorced, chilly, withdrawn and short of cash, spends a great deal of time staring into the painting which hangs over her fireplace. It’s a seascape with a man, woman and child of yesteryear in the foreground. Elsie, Winter’s daughter, who rebelled against her mother and went to Vermont to live with her boyfriend Robin, came home with her baby, Peda, when her boyfriend’s drug use became too much to handle.

Young Peda spends a lot of time on the beach where she has found magical friends, an old man named Jake with a black dog. The reader wonders: “Are they imaginary? Symbolic? Real?”

The three aggressive men who come look at the painting include two elderly art experts from the Getty Museum and a younger man who turns out to be the painter’s grandson. The gradual revelation of the connection between the painter and each of the major characters is a source of dramatic tension and suspense. Key to the story is the revelation of the true identities of two characters. Examination of the painting leads to a discovery which unravels family secrets. In the end, the three Peregrines benefit from knowing the truth.

Weather plays a profound role in the novel; it is almost a character. Fog, dark clouds and storms set a mood, suggesting that the Peregrines are subject to forces beyond their control. Young Peda, the family member most in tune with nature, has a strong need for friendship and a belief in magic that lead to a positive outcome for her family members.

Peregrine Island is presented in the first person with the point-of-view mostly alternating between Winter and Elsie, with a few chapters from Peda’s perspective. Interior monologue reveals their psyches. Readers who find it hard to warm to Winter and Elsie may wish the story had been presented in the third person by an omniscient narrator, with some of the key revelations presented more dramatically. The novelist seems to be interested primarily in bringing to light the characters’ emotions and conflicts through the plot device of the art mystery, but for some readers the mystery is the strongest element in the novel.

Peregrine Island has won significant awards: the National Indie Excellence Award for “Regional Fiction, Northeast”; the Independent Press award for “2017 Distinguished Favourite” in the literary fiction category and the Independent Publisher Book Awards’ IPPY Award for U.S. Northeast, Best Regional Fiction. It was a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards for “Fiction-General”. While the novel has special resonance to those who know Long Island Sound, its themes are universal.

About the reviewer: Ruth Latta’s novel, Grace and the Secret Vault, (Ottawa, Baico, 2017, ISBN 978-1-77216-012-5, info@baico.ca) concerns the impact of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 upon a family.  Find her at http://ruthlatta.blogspot.com.au.