Orion has pre-empted for “a good five-figure sum” a fictionalised account of “the most intense hurricane to ever make landfall in the US”, which has been described as a combination of The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Perfect Storm.
Publishing director Kate Mills did the deal for British Commonwealth Rights excluding Canada for Summertime and another novel by Vanessa LaFaye with Tina Betts at Andrew Mann Ltd.
The book is set during the 1935 Labor Day hurricane, which tears apart a town already divided by race.
Summertime follows one soldier returning home to find his first love, only to be accused of an attempted murder as the storm approaches.
In reality, the storm saw hundreds of First World War veterans working on a construction project abandoned to their fate when the government failed to evacuate them in time.
In the days after the storm, Ernest Hemmingway wrote to President Roosevelt in outrage at their treatment.
Mills said: “This is a beautifully constructed, seductive novel. Summertime is a dream combination of The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Perfect Storm.
“It’s at once a glorious love story and a fascinating slice of social history, as well as a mesmerising account of what is it is like to be the in the eye of a hurricane.
“Summertime is one of those books that haunts you long after you’ve turned the final page; I can’t remember when I was so profoundly moved by a debut novel.”
LaFaye grew up in Florida and now lives in Marlborough, Wiltshire. She said: “Although I grew up in Florida, I was unaware of the events on which this book is based until I began researching.
“It’s not hard to see why a group of destitute veterans, scarred by their experiences in the First World War, would have been attracted to a works project in the Keys.
“I began to feel it was important to make more people aware of what happened to these men: that they were housed in appalling conditions and left to die, through a combination of apathy and indifference, when a major hurricane struck.”
Summertime will be published in 2015, the 80th anniversary of the Labor Day hurricane.