Friday, August 23, 2013

Beach Strip by John Lawrence Reynolds

"I’d rather laugh in bad taste than cry in good taste."
 That’s how Josie Marshall deals with the death of her detective husband, Gabe, found naked outside their home on the beach with a bullet in his brain. Everyone calls it suicide. Josie knows it isn’t . . . but fears it could be. After all, she had provided Gabe with a motive. The clues are so strong that even Josie begins to believe Gabe shot himself. But when a horrific slaying occurs literally at her feet, she knows Gabe was murdered, and her determination to prove it carries her toward dark corners of the beach strip and exposes the darker sides of its residents. Fending off her fears with humour and outrage, she encounters a drug-crazed drifter, an organized-crime boss with romance on his mind, a woman with a murderous past and a pervert who’s been frequenting her garden shed. When a chance remark leads Josie to the astonishing truth of Gabe’s death, her story takes a shocking turn that no one could have seen coming.

It took me a while to put my finger on an underlying tone to the feel of the novel but finally I put a name to it: bitterness.  After a bit of thought, it made sense to me.  The loss that Josie experiences along with the freshness and manner of it easily lend itself to that feeling.  What I liked was that Reynolds wove that feeling into the fabric of the story and not into Josie herself.  As readers, we were exposed to the feeling without being buried by it.

Overall I enjoyed the novel.  It took me about 60 pages to really get into the story, I think that was about how long it took me to get to know Josie enough to start rooting for her.  There were a lot of characters and a lot of information on the locations in the book that, while interesting and valuable to the story, slowed down my progress.  I also would have liked for Gabe's partner to have been a bit more rounded. A few of the other characters would have benefited from more character traits as well to make them less like caricatures and have more full bodied personalities. Aside from that, I thought that the writing was very good.  Reynolds weaves local history into the landscape in a personal way that never drones, instead he is able to pepper the information as though it were the readers own memories on the page.  I have driven over both bridges that feature in the book and had a passing curiosity about the houses along the beach. I snuggled into this book with a feeling of familiarity and the nosiness of a neighbour peering over the fence.

About two-thirds of the way through the novel, I did guess the identity of the culprit but still very much enjoyed watching the mystery and final confrontations play out to the end.


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