In Coy’s (A Table on Kilimanjaro, 2013, etc.) mystery novel, dead seals start washing up on the local beach soon after a young woman’s friend disappears.
Jaye Walker, 25, is on her second summer of managing a kayak and surf shop in Agave Beach, California, saving money for her next adventure. Due in part to a childhood experience of abandonment, Jaye’s philosophy is to keep moving and live her life without attachments. But that gets complicated after Gerald, an older homeless man who helped out at the shop, disappears, leaving Baby, his Chihuahua mix, behind. Jaye decides to look after the dog temporarily, but Josue Segura, an attractive 30-ish photographer who’s new in town, is also claiming her attention. The two hit it off—he teaches Jaye how to scuba dive, which she loves—but she wonders if he’s really just a photographer. Jaye then sees her dream of traveling recede further when she must use her own money to pay surf-shop wages after a burglary. Meanwhile, the town is troubled by dozens of dead seals and sea lions washing up in the cove; they appear shark-bitten and leave a terrible smell, which alarms visitors. Then Jaye is attacked by a strange man on the beach. With several mysteries swirling around her, Jaye must decide her next move. Coy uses her beachside setting well, contrasting Agave Beach’s innocent sand castles and clueless tourists with the mysterious ocean—so foreign with its dark depths, sharks, kelp forests, and sea caves. Jaye’s independence, hard work, and wit make her admirable. She and the other characters are well-drawn, with interesting back stories, although some points are repeated too often, such as Jaye’s commitment issues. But with only a handful of characters, Coy doesn’t offer enough suspects to make this a compelling mystery. The book is instead filled out with, for example, the minutiae of scuba diving. These details are well-described but unnecessary to advance the mystery plot.
A seaside mystery with an appealing heroine, but one that needs more red herrings.