The suspicious death of a high-ranking British diplomat creates whispers of treason and spies; everyone seems to have lost faith in Nicky Fleming except his young son in Bella Pollen’s Cold War mystery – The Summer of the Bear.
After his untimely death, Nicky’s family flees to a remote Scottish island in the Hebrides for the safety of old family surroundings and seclusion from the harsh innuendo of the diplomatic gossips. Letty, Nicky’s wife is tortured by his incriminating death-bed letter; Georgie, his seventeen year old daughter harbors a secret uncovered when she accompanied her father to East Berlin; Alba, fourteen, is angry at the world and her father for deserting them. Only eight year old Jamie believes his father will keep his promise and come back to tell his family the truth.
As the family copes with their grief – each in their own way – a bear that has escaped from a one-man circus act appears intermittently in the action. Pollen assigns chapters to the thoughts of each: Letty, Georgie, Alba, Jamie – and the bear. Jamie believes the bear is his father in a new form, and Pollen allows the bear’s thoughts, its interest in the family, and its protective instincts toward the children to make the connection a possibility.
Place is important to the story – from the watchful paranoia at the Wall dividing Berlin to the proper stiffness of the British diplomatic corps in West Berlin, to finally, the wild Outer Hebrides. Pollen spent her childhood summers in the Scottish Highlands and her descriptions of the raw beauty of the cliffs, the birds, and the sea places you there in that magical yet forbidding place.
I was caught up in the intrigue; was Nicky’s death murder, suicide, accident? Did he betray his family and country? Was he a double agent? Pollen maintains the suspense while demonstrating how differently each character deals with the grief and uncertainty as well as with each other. Although the dramatic ending is neatly tied with the imagination and loyalty of the young boy, my satisfaction came with the possibility – the belief – that the bear really was the savior. More than a mystery or an examination of family relationships and loyalties, The Summer of the Bear is a sweet comfort I enjoyed.