Thursday, June 5, 2014

Review by Jodi: Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon

Author: Josh Lanyon
Publisher: Carina Press

Rating: 4.5


Twenty years ago, little Brian Arlington was kidnapped from his family's Long Island estate and was never seen again. The trail went cold, but investigative journalist Griff Hadley has always thought there was more to the story--much more. When the Arlington’s' patriarch invites him to stay at their estate to research his true crime book, Griff can't say no. It's the story of a lifetime.

But not everyone is happy about Griff's presence. Relatives and staff alike regard him coldly, including Pierce Mather, the Arlington’s' attractive lawyer, who is more than a little wary of Griff's motives.

When a stranger shows up claiming to be the long-lost Brian, Griff and Pierce are united in their suspicions. Startled to have found an ally in the buttoned-up lawyer, Griff soon realizes it's hard to keep a professional distance. Even in the midst of a groundbreaking investigation, even in the face of a shocking family secret.


“I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Griffin Hadley’s favorite novel is The Great Gatsby. Like the narrator in that novel, Nick Carraway, Hadley is a native of the Midwest, who is intrigued with New York and its wealthy residents. Hadley, a crime reporter and aspiring book writer, is a realist and a bit of a romantic.

Hadley is not just writing a book about the decades old mystery of what happened to four-year-old Brian Arlington, he is seeking truth. For some reason, Hadley is drawn to Brian’s story, the Arlington family and the mystery that surrounds the family and crime.

Josh Lanyon is a master of description and unravels a mysterious plot with descriptive panache. With the use of foreshadowing and imagery, Lanyon sets the stage for this story in an eerie fashion.

Griff like to think that, as a jaded crime reporter, he wasn’t easily spooked, but there was no question that the grounds of the Winden House were atmospheric at night. Maybe it was all those empty-eyed statues, human and animal, peering out from behind shrubberies, or the deep, deep shadows cast by gnarled trees and spidery, ornamental grasses; but there was no arguing the creepy factor was high. As the lights of the villa grew smaller behind him, he was conscious of how far the guest cottage was from the main house. And how isolated the estate was from its neighbors down the coast.

The sounds of the waves carried at night. Other sounds should have carried too – crickets? frogs? owls? – but all was quiet. There was only the dull steady thud of his shoes on the damp bricks. The scent of wet grass and smoldering leaves rose from the cooling earth as he entered the tunnel of rhododendron trees.

Lanyon has the uncanny ability to draw readers into a story by embedding the reader in the fictional worlds Lanyon creates, and Lanyon has done that again with Stranger on the Shore. Through the use of in-depth description and realistic dialogue, Lanyon develops these intriguing characters and plot. The hook for Stranger on the Shore happens in the first few paragraphs of the story as Hadley is introduced.

Griff sucked in a long breath and reached for the car door handle. He continued to sit staring at the white Italianate faced of the villa, graceful columns, punctiliously flat roofs, balconies with black wrought-iron railings, and all the while his heart was beating too fast in that mix of anticipation and anxiety. More anxiety than anticipation wish was just … weird.

The best way to deal with it was to get his ass out of the car and in front of those elegant, imposing double doors.

What was the worst that could happen?

Hadley is not just investigating another crime, he is seeking truth and perhaps some justice for a man Hadley thinks has been falsely incarcerated for the crime. Hadley seems unable to ignore the pull to the Arlington family no matter how hard he tries to play it off as just another crime story.  At the heart of the kidnapping mystery lies the uncertainty of what happened to Brian Arlington. While Brian’s kidnapper was arrested, the boy’s body was never found. Wealthy patriarch Jarrett Arlington is hopeful that Brian is still alive, and he hopes Hadley will help find him.

The Arlington estate on Long Island, New York is massive and has hidden passageways that are not included in the original police reports. There seem to be a lot of secrets hidden and buried on their land. The question is could one of the buried bodies be Brian’s.

A strange, shivery feeling slithered down Griff’s spine. Someone walking on your grave, his mother used to say. He glanced instinctively over his shoulder. It was twilight now, the first faint stars appearing in the sky, trees and shrubs and statuary throwing long, sinister shadows across the grass.

For the first time it occurred to him that if Brian’s kidnapping had been an inside job, that insider might still be alive. Alive and well and living on the estate.

The Arlington’s watch dog, so to speak, is Pierce Mather, the family attorney. Mather has his own hidden secrets about Brian’s disappearance, and the standoffish attorney takes his job protecting Jarrett very seriously. Before he even meets Hadley, Mather lets the writer know that this book should not be written. Griff is wary of Mather and his potential involvement in the book.

He had spoken to Pierce Mather once on the phone – for as long as it had taken Mather to shut him up and shoot him down. The words sue your ass had featured prominently. Griff had a gut feeling he and Mather might not see eye to eye on what constituted information with “no bearing.”

One of Lanyon’s talents is creating chemistry between characters, and the chemistry between Hadley and Mather is intriguing, dynamic and chaotic. The tension between the two men is palpable from the first time they lock eye, across a crowded room. They appear to be as opposite as Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby. Despite Hadley’s wariness, he is very attracted to Mather.

Mather looked to be in his mid-thirties, slick and corporate in an expensive and impeccably tailored suit. Too good looking. The kind of guy with a morbidly obese stock portfolio, a lifetime gym membership and a country-club wife.

      Of course, looks can be deceiving and there is more to Mather than meets the eye.

      How could someone that groomed -- Griff wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Piece got pedicures ort even body waxes – seem so … masculine? Not just masculine. Powerful. It wasn’t the expensive clothes or air of entitlement. It wasn’t even necessarily communicated by the way Pierce held himself or his body language, because at the moment he was hunched over the table trying not to drip au jus on his immaculate crotch. Despite the heavy aftershave and the buffed nails and the handmade shoes, Pierce seemed more intensely male than any guy Griff knew.

It was distracting.

Which was annoying.

Lanyon keeps readers on the edge of their seats as the clues to the mystery are slowly revealed. Just as Hadley seems to be putting the puzzle together, the pieces are shuffled and inverted. The danger builds with the mystery as does the intensity of the relationship between Mather and Hadley.

As usual, Josh Lanyon has created an intriguing plot and a quirky cast of characters. The supporting characters do their best to enhance the story and detract from the mystery at the same time. With these unusual characters, Lanyon has established a dysfunctional family dynamic that keeps the reader and characters off kilter. The dramatic soap-opera type elements are overshadowed by the realism of the scenario.

The climax of the story is not really surprising if the reader pays attention to the clues and foreshadowing elements that Lanyon employs. Stranger on the Shore is a great story. This crime story is anything but simple, and in usual Josh Lanyon fashion, the author keeps the reader wanting more.

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