Rod Reynolds – Black Reed Bay (Blog Tour)
Published by Orenda Books, paperback £8.99. I received a proof copy of the novel from the publisher for review purposes. Many thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
First, the official blurb: 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 can have only one ending. And then the first body appears, and Casey’s investigation plunges her into a darkness she could never have imagined…
Last year, Rod Reynolds gave the world a superbly crafted standalone set in London, Blood Red City. This year, he returns to the US, where his first three books were set, but this is not the 1940s nor the wide expanses of Texas, Arkansas and the bustle of Los Angeles and Las Vegas; it’s very much now and very much east coast small town, in Hampstead County, Long Island.
The prologue drops us into a harrowing scene; two women dealing with devastation and a man apart from them in the scene yet somehow involved. In chapter one we spool back six weeks. Cop Casey Wray and her partner, David Cullen, head to Ramona Villas, an exclusive community, to follow up a disturbing 999 call made a few hours ago. They have the name of the woman who made the call, but little idea of what happened despite the fact a uniformed patrol was dispatched immediately. Tina Grace made the call, apparently in fear for her life. After interviewing the person she was visiting, Jon Parker, Casey and Cullen agree: he’s lying.
The first hours of the investigation run almost in real time as we follow Casey and Cullen taking the first steps in what is officially a missing persons inquiry. This slow burn approach is given momentum and a sense of dread in part from Tina’s 911 call and in part from that brief prologue; it’s deftly done and effective. Casey finally persuades her boss, Lieutenant Ray Carlotti, to call out a canine unit to help in the search – Cullen’s comment on viewing the results sums up my feelings at this point exactly: “What the fuck have we walked into?”
Another bold move comes about half-way through, when Casey deals with a more personal tragedy. This could have seen the novel sag as the main plot is pushed to the backburner, but Reynolds uses this section to make us invest even more in Casey and to show how she comes back from a gut-punch situation.
We’re drawn back to Tina’s case with what seems like a bombshell discovery, but it frustratingly goes nowhere satisfactory to Casey. Meanwhile, Captain Robbie McTeague – officially in charge of a special department, unofficially a troubleshooter and sly overseer of Carlotti’s domain – has an equally explosive comment that floors Casey. People keeping secrets is a theme that runs through this novel like lettering in a stick of seaside rock, but when they are revealed few play out how you would expect, as Reynolds has brought a fresh spin to these tropes.
There are threats, deaths, arrests, and a proverbial can of worms opened that spills across the pages until we finally get back to the opening, with Casey, Maggie Grace – Tina’s mother – and McTeague on the beach. The reality of it is not what it seemed when we read it on p1, which is clever indeed, but in some ways it’s now far worse after all we’ve been through with the two women. It brings to the surface two traditional themes: what would you do for family, and who do you trust? Well-worn they may be, but they are also the perfect vehicle to bring the reader closer to the story, as we can’t help but ask ourselves the questions even as we read about what the characters’ answers are.
Reynolds puts Casey through the wringer so hard in Black Reed Bay that it’s amazing she ends the novel as a person – I was half-expecting her to become a diamond after all the pressure she is subjected to. But while it’s a serious and seriously powerful novel, Black Reed Bay is not a relentlessly grim grind of a read, there are lovely snippets of banter between Casey and Cullen; there’s some hilarious verbal sparring between Casey and Carlotti – and right at the end, after all the storms that have gone before, there is a ray of sunshine.
As ever, Reynolds is excellent in creating a sense of place, both in terms of landscape – I can almost feel the sand under my feet in the beach scenes – and also in terms of the community: the rich in the beachfront mansions versus the rundown neighbourhoods of Rockport town. As in Blood Red City, this attention to varied detail immerses the reader in the location.
This feels not like the first novel in a series, but the prequel novel the author finally gives his audience after a dozen or more entries – it’s the book where everything is laid out that has been hinted at, referred to obliquely and skated around with only fragments revealed over the course of many books. This feeling is in the story and how that is laid out; it’s in the character of Casey and how she is affected by what happens to her and around her, and it’s in the masterful way that Reynolds keeps us guessing and keeps us hooked on turning the pages. I’ve always liked his novels, they’re interesting and stylish. I wondered if he could top Blood Red City. Well, he has – and then some. I was totally blown away reading this novel, and the moment I finished I knew I would be putting it on the shelf to read again, and again.
Black Reed Bay is powerful, sympathetic, explosive; masterfully plotted and all in elegant, quiet prose that serves the story without showing off. The best news of all? It’s billed as the first in a series. So much happens in these pages that we know Casey will be affected for a long time. I want to see how she picks herself up after this, and I want to see how far she can go – and what path she chooses to get there. As far as I can tell, the sky’s the limit for Casey Wray, and for Rod Reynolds.
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 has called the books ‘”pitch-perfect American noir”. A life-long Londoner, Rod’s first novel set in his hometown, entitled Blood Red City, was published by Orenda Books in 2020. Rod previously worked in advertising as a media buyer, and holds an MA in novel writing from City University London. He lives with his wife and family and spends most of his time trying to keep up with his two young daughters.