Reviewed by Jim Napier
Canadian crime writer Phyllis Smallman recently released Beach Kill, her newest novel in the Singer Brown series.
In Beach Kill, Singer’s life is on hold while she lives in her new home on Glenphiddie island, a West Coast sanctuary for ageing hippies and artists. Her new digs are a bequest from her former rock band leader and mentor, Steven Davids, but in order to avoid inheritance taxes, Singer has to make them her principal residence for at least a year.
Singer’s new life on the island turns out to be anything but dull. The body of a young woman, with her head bashed in, is found nearby on a small forbidding outcropping called Ghost Island. Louis Wilmot of the local RCMP detachment, and Singer's lover, is put in charge of the investigation.
The victim is Trina Strickner, a bartender at one of the island’s watering holes, the Ferryman. An aspiring writer, Trina had kept a diary, which Singer gets her hands on. Reading it, Singer learns that Trina had planned to leave the island for a job in Vancouver, and that she’d expected to take with her, Cody Frieberg, a lover not yet graduated from high school. The young woman had played this very close to her chest, and hadn’t told her mother nor, it seems, even her young lover. When Singer asks Cody when he’d last been with Trina, he says that it was only the day before, the day she’d been killed. Even more disturbingly he admits they’d quarrelled, but insists that Trina had several lovers. Singer is convinced that Cody isn’t telling the whole truth.
When the diary disappears, Singer wonders whether it might contain clues to who Trina’s murderer is. Her cop boyfriend Louis tells her of an even more disturbing discovery: Trina’s stepfather had been molesting her, and she was going to have him charged. In the cloistered community that defined Trina’s brief life, the circle of those who might have been involved in her death soon grows to include others motivated by jealousy and fear.
Phyllis Smallman writes convincing, atmospheric tales involving believable, ordinary people whose lives have been touched by crime. She made an auspicious debut eight years ago with Margarita Nights, the first of a Florida-based series featuring bartender and amateur sleuth Sherry Travis. The novel won Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for the best unpublished author, and then went on to be nominated for the Malice Domestic Award in the US, and was shortlisted for Britain’s Debut Dagger Award for best first novel.
After writing half a dozen novels in the Sherry Travis series, Smallman launched a new series in 2013, featuring ex-rock performer Singer Brown, who in the first book, Long Gone Man, journeys to the home of her mentor on the coast of British Columbia, only to find him dead and she a leading suspect in his murder. Drawing on the altogether different setting of B.C.’s island culture, Smallman again proved her mettle, winning the Independent Publisher’s gold medal in the Mystery/Thriller category in 2014. Building on the storyline of Long Gone Man, Smallman will certainly win more accolades and many new fans with her latest murder mystery.
Beach Kill is published by Ingram.
Jim Napier is a professional crime-fiction reviewer based in Canada. Since 2005 his book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian newspapers and on multiple websites, and his own crime novel is scheduled to appear in the Spring. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org