I wanted more London from Rod Reynolds, following the brilliant Blood Red City, but in Black Reed Bay he has taken us instead to Long Island. I don’t mind. The environment and the elements provide a menacing backdrop for an excellent addition to the genre.
Pick your labels. I’ve heard this book described as a superior police procedural and also as American Noir. For me there are shades of Line of Duty and also The Smiths, neither of which are especially American, and the classic game Hotel Dusk, which is set in the States but was developed in Japan. That might sound as though this is some kind of hotchpotch but Reynolds captures the style of the place and of the vernacular very well. And the topics explored are universal ones: ethics, justice, loyalty and trust, through the eyes of a rookie-ish detective sergeant, Casey Wray. Wray is out of the Orenda stable of fine female leads (Lori Anderson, Sam Shephard, Chastity Riley, Elma, I’m looking at you all). She is an outsider and she hasn’t quite sorted herself, yet. But she is sassy, fun and thoughtful, serious without being solemn, and she has imbibed enough dramas that show how police life is supposed to work. There’s a lot of banter but as is often the case that banter is a social lubricant that masks hang ups about status, rank, authority and belonging. That said, although this back-and-forth happens within reported speech, there’s a strong sense of an homage being paid to the wise-cracking gumshoes of classic 40s noir.
But I’ve been diverted onto style again, when the story itself deserves attention. A woman goes missing. Wray and her much-valued sidekick start to investigate. But no one is telling the truth – and when several dead bodies are found on the scrubland round the beach, top brass get involved. Are they protecting the powerful, as one down-at-heel character suggests? Or is there a power-play going on within the police department itself? Someone, somewhere is setting someone else up: no way to behave. Wray has to pick her way through a political minefield and her own loyalties and instincts are called into question.
The novel bounds with an almost nervous energy. It’s cinematic and widescreen. Reynolds deploys a winter storm (whimsically called ‘Daisy’) and uses darkness almost as though it were an additional character. There’s plenty of fog, too: both that experienced by and generated by a disparate bunch of characters. We’re invited to consider our reaction to addiction and escort work on one hand – and the desperation that leads there – and the steps that people might take to protect their access to good living and golf. The baubles jealously guarded by rich retirees are compared against the good work done by Wray and those of her colleagues who are on the side of righteousness.
At the end of Blood Red City, I wasn’t sure there was scope for a sequel, even though I really wanted one. But Casey Wray has room to grow – and Reynolds intends to develop her story. This is the start of a series with plenty of potential. You wouldn’t go paddling in Black Reed Bay. But there’s plenty of depth in which to wallow.
Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.