Beach Strip is two-time Arthur Ellis Award winner John Lawrence Reynolds’ first mystery in eight years, and it’s a welcome return to the form. Reynolds keeps the pace lively, teasing out clues as if he’s courting the reader, and delivering a cracking read.
The novel opens with the discovery of the body of police detective Gabe Marshall, the victim of an apparent suicide. This dramatic beginning immediately engages the reader’s sympathy for the protagonist, newly widowed Josie Marshall.
Unlike most amateur detectives, Josie is not inquisitive by nature. However, she refuses to believe her husband killed himself, even though she knows he had reason to: she was having an affair with his partner, which she ended shortly before Gabe’s death.
An innocent question about what she’s going to do with her life leads Josie to discover her purpose: to find her husband’s killer. Things take a turn when a stranger who claims to know what happened dies horribly, literally at Josie’s feet. His death is likewise ruled a suicide, and a newly self-aware Josie begins asking the questions she once avoided, taking full advantage of her close connections to the police.
But being a cop’s widow only gets her so far. Josie lied to the police about her affair, and before long her acerbic demeanour and unwanted inquiries earn her as many enemies as allies on the force. Seeking answers from other sources, Josie ventures past her own row of bright cottages to the darker side of the strip, where Reynolds clearly enjoys delving into the eccentric details of his setting.
Josie’s palpable grief and confusion carry the reader swiftly forward while her matter-of-fact narration and gallows humour prevent Beach Strip from becoming too morose. Reynolds handles this admixture deftly, and presents Josie as flawed, at times unlikeable, but entirely believable. Each new plot wrinkle propels the novel toward the surprising truth about exactly how Gabe died, but Reynolds’ complex heroine is the real star.