Canadian novelist John Lawrence Reynolds first made his mark in crime fiction in 1989 with The Man Who Murdered God. He followed that with five more novels, in the process winning two Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Mystery Novel, among other honours. Now, after almost a ten-year spell of writing non-fiction, Reynolds has turned out a new novel, and he's lost none of his edge.
Gabe Marshall is a police detective, and after he and Josie have each put failed marriages behind them, they are trying to carve out a measure of happiness in a modest beach cottage on the shore of Lake Ontario that serves as their refuge from a troubled world. Or were, until one horrible evening when Josie returns home to find officers swarming over the site, marking off a grassy section of the beach with yellow tape, and inside that Stygian landscape, Gabe Marshall lying among the grass with a bullet in his brain.
Gabe's death seems clearly a suicide, and Josie's immediate thought is that somehow he discovered that she had been having an affair with one of his fellow officers. When her sister descends on Josie from Vancouver to give her support, she notices an expensive ring that Gabe had recently given Josie. It's way beyond what a policeman can plausibly afford. Josie is evasive, uncertain how Gabe had acquired it. Unspoken between them is the question, had Gabe been on the take, and was the ring somehow implicated in his death?
Despite questions from the investigating officers, and a media scrum that lays waste to her privacy, somehow Josie makes it through the next few days. When the bullet that killed Gabe is traced to his own gun, and paraffin tests reveal that he had fired the weapon, Josie still denies that it was suicide.
Refusing a departmental ceremony, she has Gabe's remains cremated, and takes his ashes past a nearby drawbridge to the canal to return them to the natural environment they both loved. She hears a man's voice telling her he knows what happened, but the drawbridge horn sounds, warning that the bridge is about to be raised, almost knocking her over with its force, and causing her to drop the box that had contained Gabe's remains. When she regains her senses the man is nowhere to be found. She returns home, and only later goes back to recover the box. Josie finds more than she expects: the remains of a man at the foot of the canal, his head crushed by the bridge's massive concrete counterweight. Was it a macabre accident, or did he really have something to tell Josie about her husband's death?
Before her quest is over Josie will fight a department that has made up its mind about Gabe's death, and be forced to enter the shadowy world of his work. While getting to the bottom of things she will grapple with a druggie that shows up at her front door and a prowler in her back yard, and she will confront a local crime boss who is either her worst enemy or a valued friend. And in the process Josie will learn that betrayal takes many forms, sometimes that of someone who is closest to us.
Reynolds is a seasoned professional, and it shows. Beach Strip is an engrossing read, with a strong sense of place and characters that are both believable and engaging. Nicely paced, with several twists and a storyline that will hold the reader's attention, it marks the welcome return of an accomplished writer to Canadian crime fiction. Let's hope there are many more such tales in the offing.
--Jim Napier, professional mystery and crime fiction reviewer