It was this book’s title that led me to pull it off the shelf, as well as the understated cover design. I didn’t realize, at the time, that the Bay of Fires is a real place in Tasmania, a large island off Australia’s southern coast.
Here’s the setup: Sarah, after some bad decisions, ends up at home for the holidays, unsure what to do next. While she’s thinking it over, she’s one of two people to discover a young woman’s body on the beach, and for the next week, she and a down-on-his-luck reporter try to solve the mystery of the young woman’s disappearance.
Now, before I read Ms. Gee’s novel, I knew nothing about Tasmania, other than that it is an island and the namesake of a small, fierce marsupial creature. But one of this novel’s best features is its strong sense of place; Ms. Gee describes the scrub, the ocean, the rock pools, and the small community on the bay in fresh detail. Often, scenery escapes me, because I’m so focused on characters (with exceptions: Jane Eyre, The Lord of the Rings, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream come to mind). However, I think I was jolted out of my reading habits by the reversed seasons — the novel takes place around Christmas and New Year’s Day, and yet it’s summer.
Equally refreshing is Bay of Fires‘s main character, Sarah Avery. Deeply flawed, she is nonetheless tenacious, strong, and good. You know, a person, not a caricature of womanhood. For awhile, Ms. Gee’s focus on Sarah’s physical strength and fitness annoyed me, until I realized that her fitness is an integral part of her character, and informs many of her decisions over the novel’s course. She’s an original, interesting character, who sometimes reminded me of Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. If you loved Starbuck, you’ll love Sarah.
Here’s my final recommendation: I thought I had the mystery solved on page 107 (of 371), and I kept reading. I was only half right, and the novel kept me guessing til the very end. I’ll be looking for Poppy Gee’s next book.