When a young woman makes a distressing middle-of-the-night call to 911, apparently running for her life in a quiet, exclusive beachside neighbourhood, miles from her home, everything suggests a domestic incident. Except no one has seen her since, and something doesn’t sit right with the officers at Hampstead County PD. With multiple suspects and witnesses throwing up startling inconsistencies, and interference from the top threatening the integrity of the investigation, lead detective Casey Wray is thrust into an increasingly puzzling case that looks like it’s going to have only one ending. And then the first body appears…
Once again emphasising his versatility as a writer, Rod Reynolds (Blood Red City) returns to his old fictional stomping ground of America, in the first book to feature new protagonist detective Casey Wray. On this showing, this could herald the start of a very special series indeed…
In a stark contrast to his last book, which was an incredibly clever, delicately woven conspiracy thriller, Reynolds has gone all out with this one to make Black Reed Bay a much more character driven mystery thriller. I was mightily impressed with his portrayal of Casey Wray, where he slowly reveals her transformation from rookie officer, which brought huge challenges to her personally and professionally, into the smart, wise cracking and largely respected detective heading up a major missing person investigation. There’s a wonderful paragraph in the book that neatly condenses her trials and tribulations as a female officer in a male dominated arena, that I found particularly succinct, and no doubt familiar to women everywhere forging their path in a largely male world,
“She was maybe a month away from quitting the department altogether. The ribbing, the ingrained sexism- she could’ve dealt with those in isolation. accustomed to both from her time on patrol. But what was new was the imposter syndrome that came with making detective; she’d anticipated the feeling, but not its ferocity; nor how much it would magnify the impact of the other two.”
What follows is a familiar tale of a woman having to draw on all her natural resources and tenacity to carve a place for herself pursuing a career she loves, and which she proves particularly adept at. I really admired her vigour and determination, her sassy comebacks, and the way that she values her police colleagues, despite some of their obvious failings. You get a sense of all of her team working hard for each other, and the camaraderie that exists between them, particularly when a particular superior officer seeks to undermine Wray, and cause her to question her alliances.
With the disappearance of a young woman, Tina Grace, possibly in violent circumstances, I liked the way that Reynolds didn’t lead us down the predictable path, that initially I thought the story would go in. It’s difficult to explain how the author avoids this, without lapsing into a huge spoiler, but as Wray investigates Tina’s disappearance, and to track down the person responsible, Reynolds succeeds in keeping this young woman at the heart of the story. Through Wray’s interactions with those Tina had come into contact with and the rapport she establishes with Tina’s family- her mother and brother- we see Tina as a flesh and blood person, not objectified purely as a victim who has had an uncertain fate. With a shocking discovery later in the book, we are reminded of how so many women are treated with contempt and defiled, because they are seen as objects to be abused and abandoned without care, and Tina’s story takes on an extra poignancy because of this.
By setting the story in a small coastal community, there is a wonderful building of claustrophobic tension, compounded by the wildness and isolation of this particular area. Reynolds uses this to good effect, as Wray and her team embark on their hunt for the perpetrator responsible for Tina’s disappearance, and builds the cloud of secrecy that surrounds a certain member of this community, who effectively gives his neighbours an entirely different impression of himself. The author touches on bystander theory in the initial events of the book, where this community, who probably consider themselves good citizens, are happy enough to call the police, but reluctant to give safe sanctuary to a young woman clearly in distress, and in fear of her life, and ultimately they frustrate Wray’s investigation into the bargain.
I thought Black Reed Bay was an accomplished and interesting thriller, giving this reader pause for thought along the way through Reynolds’ superb characterisation, and the issues that crop up throughout the book in relation to women’s experiences of both working within a largely male environment, or conversely becoming the victims of male violence and subjugation. The plot had a nifty twist, in the sense of how most readers would think this would play out, and with a forthright and entirely likeable female detective at its heart, all bodes well for future books in a series… I ask hopefully? Recommended.
Rod Reynolds is the author of four novels, including the Charlie Yates series. His 2015 debut, The Dark Inside, was longlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger, and was followed by Black Night Falling (2016) and Cold Desert Sky (2018); the Guardian have called the books ‘Pitch-perfect American noir.’ A lifelong Londoner, in 2020 Orenda Books published his first novel set in his hometown, Blood Red City. Rod previously worked in advertising as a media buyer, and holds an MA in novel writing from City University London. Rod lives with his wife and family and spends most of his time trying to keep up with his two young daughters. Twitter: @Rod_WR
(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)
Missed a post? Catch up at these excellent sites: