With her previous book, Shiver, Allie Reynolds mastered the suspenseful locked room mystery, penning a tense and unputdownable story full of secrets, lies, distrust and suspicious deaths. Her second book, The Bay, keeps all those essential thriller elements but replaces the snowy mountains of the French Alps for the sun-drenched shores of Australia. The result is an adrenaline-charged The Beach-esque novel where characters will kill to keep their surfer’s paradise a secret.
When she discovers that her best friend Mikki is marrying a man she’s only just met, Kenna hears alarm bells. She decides to fly to Sydney to surprise her friend and find out if the man she’s marrying, Jack, is genuine and not simply after her money. Despite Mikki’s initially frosty reception, Kenna decides to tag along with the soon-to-be-newly-weds on a trip to a remote surfing spot with perfect waves. Sorrow Bay is as beautiful as it is wild and dangerous, and it’s completely cut off from the rest of the world, which is exactly how Mikki, Jack and their mysterious friends – Sky, Ryan, Clemente and Victor – like it. In fact, they’ve done everything in their power to keep it hidden and they don’t take kindly to newcomers.
The only thing in Kenna’s favour is that she’s Mikki’s old friend, which gives her an opening – albeit an awkward one – into the group. As Kenna digs into Mikki and Jack’s relationship, she’s unwittingly drawn into their fractious cult-like dynamic. Led by intense taskmasker Sky, each of them seem to have a murky or traumatic past and a taste for reckless behaviour, dragging Kenna back into the risky world of surfing she’d left behind after an accident made her frightened of the water. But it’s not just the sea or the sharks that lurk below the waves that Kenna has to fear at Sorrow Bay.
‘How will you change, Kenna? For the better, or for the worse? Because there’s a darkness inside all of us and the Bay has a way of bringing it out.’
Like it’s twisty predecessor, The Bay is one of those tense, addictive novels that you pick up intending to read only one chapter and emerge hours later having binged the entire book in a single sitting. Reynolds builds a fraught, uncomfortable atmosphere from the start, using Kenna’s concern for her best friend as the impetus for her travelling to Australia and inviting herself into a situation where she’s clearly not welcome. Even as she’s inducted into the group, Kenna remains on the outside, wanting to run away but not wanting to leave her indoctrinated friend behind. The group’s tight, almost animalistic pack-like bond is deeply unnerving and there’s not a page goes by where it doesn’t feel as if Kenna is being threatened – whether it’s by a crashing wave, a vertiginous cliff-edge or one of the people she’s with.
Whilst none of the characters are particularly likeable – they’re all too unfriendly and suspicious to bring likeability into it – there’s something about the collective recklessness of the group that’s darkly compelling. Who are they really? Why are they so hostile to newcomers? What are they running from, and what are they hiding? They’re all ultra fit, highly competitive people, which makes it easy to believe that any one of them might be capable of murder. Reynolds’ own knowledge of surfing also bolsters the story, allowing readers to become immersed in how the characters feel and think and move, both outside and inside the water. That she once again centres her story on a sport that she’s very familiar with is one of the strengths of Reynolds’ writing.
You might find yourself needing to suspend disbelief a fair amount when reading The Bay but it has all the right ingredients for an immersive locked room mystery. It’s also a perfect summer read, complete with a beachy setting and a nerve-racking plot that’s a thrill to unravel.
The Bay is published by Headline on 23 June 2022