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BAY OF FIRES by Poppy Gee

BAY OF FIRES

By Poppy Gee

Pub Date: March 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-316-20168-1
Publisher: Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown

A close-knit beachfront community in Tasmania is threatened by a killer who might be one of the neighbors.

Sarah, 35, a devoted fisherwoman and natural athlete, is staying with her parents at their “shack,” or beach cottage, on the shores of the titular bay. Formerly a foreman at an inland fish farm, the hard-drinking Sarah left her employment after beating up her co-worker and lover, Jake. People assume she was the abused party, and she lets them. The action begins on Boxing Day at the height of Tasmanian midsummer. The badly decomposed body of Anja, a Swiss tourist, has been found near a tidal rock pool that is one of Sarah’s favorite haunts. In fact, Sarah was the last to see Anja alive and now feels guilty she didn’t tell her to avoid the rock pool, knowing someone had fouled it recently with fish remains. Hall, a grizzled reporter for a tabloid, is sent to Bay of Fires to investigate Anja’s murder and its possible links to the earlier disappearance of another young woman. Sarah and Hall form a tentative attachment, but each is too damaged by previous relationships (his wife left him for his best friend) to make a definitive move, even after a drunken one-night stand. Sarah’s ill-advised tryst with Sam, 17-year-old son of a rich American neighbor, further complicates her chances for a normal love life. Number one on the beach-dwellers’ short list of suspects is Roger, an eccentric recluse. However, transient summer campers, a crayfish poacher, the ex-husband of a local lodge owner and even Sarah’s university professor father are all possible culprits. But Gee’s preoccupations are less with the mystery than with the psychological profiles of the members of this ingrown society, such that the whodunit is forgotten for long stretches. Despite graceful writing and well-informed descriptions of fish lore and seascapes, the plot lacks both momentum and menace.

Tasmania’s culture, flora and fauna are paramount here—the thriller aspect feels extraneous.