Book Review: Reef Road by Deborah Goodrich Royce
By John ValeriJanuary 23, 2023
Deborah Goodrich Royce is writing an impressive new chapter in her storied life. Before turning to fiction with 2019’s critically acclaimed Finding Mrs. Ford (which was followed by Ruby Falls), she was a popular actress whose television and film credits include the beloved soap opera, All My Children, and cult horror classic, April Fool’s Day. Honing her storytelling prowess, she later worked as reader for le Studio Canal Plus in Paris and a story editor at Miramax Films in New York. This January, Royce returns with her third standalone novel of psychological suspense, Reef Road.
May 2020: When a severed hand washes ashore in Palm Beach, Florida, the lives of two women are set rolling like waves on rock. (Or maybe they already were). Linda Alonso is a seemingly distraught wife and mother who last saw her husband and two children walking toward the beach. They never came home, and critical hours were lost when she failed to report their absence to police until the following day. Now, she’s trapped inside her home (and the confines of her mind)—and the walls are creeping closer. What, if anything, does the gruesome discovery of that hand have to do with her family’s disappearance—and why do the authorities seem more suspicious of Linda’s claims than solicitous?
Meanwhile, a writer going by the name Noelle is consumed with investigating a cold case that has haunted her family for decades: the brutal unsolved killing of a twelve-year-old girl (the real Noelle)—a storyline inspired by Royce’s mother, whose childhood best friend was murdered. Having been raised in the wake of tragedy, and by a parent who suffered from survivor’s guilt (among other psychoses), she understands the pervasive impact of generational trauma. Maybe that’s why she’s determined to finally get answers. After all, the truth is still out there. Will she find it? And, if so, will she live to tell it? Because every writer’s purpose comes in pursuit of … The End.
Chapters alternate between the two women as the narrative skillfully merges past and present events. While the lockdown is a unique experience for each, the underlying feelings are largely universal. Anxiety. Fear. Uncertainty. And the desperation that ensues. Our own intimate knowledge of pandemic living further enhances the author’s depiction of time and place. Royce clearly understands the elements of a good story (no surprise, given her background), and plays characters and circumstances off one another to heightened, and often horrifying, effect. The result is a brain bender that is both propulsive and profound.
Reef Road is a potent melding of contemporary crime(s), a cold case, and the COVID pandemic. If you haven’t yet read Deborah Goodrich Royce, you’re missing out. If you have read her, you have some inkling of what awaits here. Not only does she deliver top notch psychological suspense, but a bold rendering of life in lockdown that reminds us how the most memorable fiction is often a reflection of reality. This one has true breakout potential and is not to be missed.