Don’t miss this magical realism thriller set in Puget Sound
by One-Minute Book Reviews: Laura Stevenson
Mar 04, 2017 | 1972 views | 0 0 comments | 126 126 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“Useless Bay” by MJ Beaufrand

Amulet Books, 2016

When Captain Vancouver explored Puget Sound in 1792, he sailed into a bay at the southern end of what he thought was a peninsula. To his annoyance, the water was so shallow that his ship ran aground before he could drop anchor, and he declared it a useless bay. The name stuck. Joseph Whidbey, a member of the expedition, started north from Useless Bay in a kayak, and after braving the treacherous waters of Deception Pass farther north, proved the “peninsula” to be a 30-mile-long island. His comrades, impressed by his seamanship, named Whidbey Island for him. The legends and the landscape of 21st century Useless Bay and Whidbey Island provide the setting of Beaufrand’s thriller.

Venture capitalist Rubin Shepard has built a McMansion overlooking Useless Bay, where he brings his wife, three children, and a large number of staff every weekend. The mansion abuts the modest property of the Fuller family: a formidable single mom and her teenaged quintuplets, four boys and Pixie, one of two narrators. Both Shepard and the Fullers know he could protect his property by building a fence that obstructed their view of Useless Bay, but so far he hasn’t. One reason is that the quintuplets look out for his house during the week, and are very kind to his youngest, learning-disabled son Grant on weekends. The other is that on the island, the quintuplets are legendary: they are all (including Pixie) over 6’2”, athletic, and trained in search and rescue. Working as a team that’s helped by their bloodhound Patience, they have saved dozens of visiting hikers and swimmers from disaster. The bravery and down-to-earth beauty of Pixie has lately attracted the attention of the book’s second narrator, Shepard’s teenaged son Henry, but their differences in status and wealth make their mutual interest awkward.

One windy Sunday night, Shepard turns up at the Fullers’ door, expecting to find Grant, who frequently hides when confronted by the necessity of returning to Seattle and the school he hates. The Fullers say he’s not there. Henry is sure he must be, because he saw Pixie take Grant out in a rowboat that afternoon, but he didn’t see them come back. Accusations fly. Pixie knows she brought Grant back and stashed the rowboat properly, but she also knows that the boy was deeply afraid of coming home. Can he have been kidnapped? There can be no delay in looking for him, for a storm is rising – and all the quintuplets join the search. Pixie and Henry discover the rowboat sunken in the bay, and in it is a corpse … but not Grant’s. Increasingly, it becomes clear that somebody in Shepard’s entourage is a murderer. And increasingly, as Pixie finds herself seeing and hearing things that cannot possibly be real, she discovers terrible truths that have haunted the Shepard family for many years. The result is a book of nonstop action with a compelling cast of characters and a mystery deepened by magical forces that spring from the rocks and waves of Whidbey Island. The scenery and Pixie (a narrator who will stay in any reader’s mind long after the book is closed) make this book truly memorable.

Laura Stevenson lives in Wilmington and her most recent novels, “Return in Kind” and “Liar from Vermont,” are both set on Boyd Hill Road.

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