Every year, the Page Turners Book Club selects a “summer read” during the month of July. This year the choice was “The Forgotten” by David Baldacci. I was looking forward to reading about the fictional town of Paradise as it is set in our very own Florida panhandle. Unfortunately, the book was a disappointment for me and many of the others in the group.
In the novel, Army Special Agent John Puller heads to Florida to investigate strange happenings at the request of his elderly aunt and at the behest of his retired military father who is suffering from dementia. After receiving a cryptic letter from his aunt that people and things in her town are not what they seem, he hops in his Corvette and heads south. In describing Paradise’s location, Baldacci writes, “He took Highway 85 south and passed places named Shalimar, Cinco Bayou, and Fort Walton Beach. Then he merged onto the Miracle Strip Parkway, crossed over Okaloosa Island, which was also part of the massive footprint of Eglin AFB, zoomed across the bridge, drove through the town of Destin, continued east, and a short while later arrived in Paradise.”
Baldacci describes the sugar-white sand of the Emerald Coast, the emerald green waters and the oppressive heat of summer, but that is where the similarity to our little slice of paradise ends. The majority of the group thought he was describing a town in South Florida and were fairly certain he had never actually visited the panhandle. A scene involving a tropical storm, a boat and a nearby oil platform was heavily maligned by one book club member as being implausible. While some of the characters and neighborhoods were believable, the overall impression of Paradise and its location was not.
SPOILER ALERT! As a facilitator of four book clubs at the Destin Library, I advise members to choose books that generate thoughtful discussion and lead to interesting conversations. While this book was not a typical “book club book” and was indeed a lighter summer read, our discussion leader, Sally, provided background on two issues that kept the discussion going: human trafficking and offshore drilling. Although the book was not a club favorite — receiving two thumbs up, four thumbs down and three thumbs sideways — it was not forgettable because of its setting and thanks to Sally’s thought-provoking questions.