The Body on the beach is a very well written mystery novel, a most compelling story that does captivate and almost forces the reader to find answers in the scattered clues dropped here and there throughout, in spite of a few literary lapses.
Constable Frank Fallon, a member of the Newfoundland Constabulary in the 1920’s, has just been re-assigned to his native community of Harbour Grace by Chief Constable John Sullivan because of personal animosity. This is viewed by both men as a demotion and punishment. Meanwhile, the entire Avalon peninsula is in the mist of a huge influx of alcohol in this period of prohibition both in Canada and the US. At the same time, there appears to be an issue with cocaine becoming available in a few places. In order to counter this double threat, Chief Sullivan brings his daughter, Christine, back from Ireland and places her undercover as a Boston writer named Grace Murphy in the same town as Fallon.
Within days of his arrival, Fallon is called to the beach where a body has been discovered. To his horror, he realizes that the dead person is the woman he had loved and hoped to marry before she spurned him, causing him to move to St. John’s and join the constabulary 15 years earlier.
Although the death appears to be a suicide, and preliminary investigations point in that direction, Frank is not convinced and is determined to find the truth. Through some coincidences, Christine and Frank start collaborating in the hope of furthering their own inquiries without revealing their endgame. The plot becomes murkier when the two start falling for one another. And to make matters worse, Frank has become somewhat alcohol dependent.
A number of unsavoury characters crop up during the investigation. Chief among them is the local doctor, as well as recognized community leaders Art Munden and his son, Edmund. By the time Christine finishes her assigned task, cocaine is shown to be merely the remnant of the regrettable and misgiven attempts by wartime medics of prescribing it to wounded soldiers. Booze on the other hand proved to be a much greater problem involving the town elite. Christine is abruptly pulled off the case, and Chief Sullivan conducts a military-style raid on the town, which results in the arrest of the Mundens, some border officials, French Mariners, and a host of others. Unfortunately Constable Frank Fallon is suddenly confronted with the true identity of his budding love interest.
As for the cause of Marie’s death, the girl whose body was found on the beach, and what happens to the burgeoning love story between the two main protagonists, I will leave readers to discover for themselves, lest I spoil the book for you.
I was somewhat disturbed by the repetitive aspect of some of the dialogue. That Edmund Munden needed to re-hash what had just been said by his father, or that we find from three different sources that two vials contained cocaine, seemed superfluous and designed only to fill space and did not bring us closer to solving the case.
With that said, the book is nonetheless a great read and leaves the reader eager to guess the end result. I was certainly well engaged by the mystery, and the conclusion left me satisfied both with the novel and with my own deductive abilities.
Because of a minor literary glitch, I could not give it the five stars it should have otherwise merited.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.