Josephine Cox, who is touted as being one of Great Britain’s most beloved authors, has an interesting way of telling a story. If Lovers and Liars and The Beachcomber are any indication, she typically starts out slow, taking her time in setting up the background of the characters and the plotlines. And there is always plenty of dialogue, either in the minds of the characters, or being spoken out loud. Then, out of nowhere she introduces plot twists and other divergences that will help drive the story to its conclusion. There may be suspenseful action in the introduction, but she will use it as a teaser, followed by a lot of buildup, which could last for up to half the novel.
In The Beachcomber, Kathy Wilson is dealing with a mother who for some reason hates her, and a sister who is the apple of her mother’s eye. Her father had passed away, leaving Kathy alone and bereft. One day her mother informs her that Kathy has inherited a cottage in West Bay, a small seaside village, but there is a story connected with the cottage. Her mother tells her that her saintly father had been living in sin with another woman, and she has now washed her hands of his memory and tells Kathy “good riddance.” Kathy reacts to this news with shock, angry that her father could not trust her enough to tell her himself, but at the same time is happy to know that her father had found some happiness with another woman. She knows that his life with her own mother surely was a living hell. Kathy has nothing to hold her in London except for her best friend Maggie, and decides to quit her job and move to West Bay to start a new life.
At the same time, Tom Marcus is reeling from the deaths of his wife and two children. The four of them were run off the road in a murderous act that appeared to be intentional. Tom, however, does not have enough evidence to prove that it was indeed murder, and struggles day to day, missing his family and wanting to know why his family was targeted. Tom resigns from his highly successful career as an architect and moves to the seaside village of West Bay to gather his thoughts and find a way to avenge the death of his family.
Tom and Kathy both become settled in their new homes and eventually they meet, having made by then mutual friends in the village. There is an attraction between them, but just like a good part of the novel, their romance evolves slowly. Neither of them is ready to confide in the other about their family baggage, but they see each other on a casual basis, seeking comfort in each other, and eventually fall in love.
The story gets juicy when a minor character introduced in the beginning of the novel, Tom’s former secretary, Lillian, turns out to have a secret passion for Tom which borders on the obsessive. It is her story, combined with the mystery of the murder of Tom’s family, that clearly helps drive the rest of the novel. On top of that, Kathy’s relationship with her sister Samantha takes a turn for the worse when she arrives in West Bay to somehow find a way to take possession of Kathy’s cottage. It seems that neither Tom nor Kathy can get an easy break, and at this point it is difficult to see which way things will turn for them.
While some readers may get frustrated with the long drawn-out way that Cox tells her stories, others will find that her technique of story-telling almost borders on the style referred to some as “cozy reads”, but in fact, there is enough action in the last half of the book to contradict this idea. Although The Beachcomber starts with the death of Tom’s family, it then jumps to the next phase of the novel, slowly paced as the characters are introduced and the plot lines are laid out. But soon enough the plot thickens, and the reader will find it hard to let go of this book.
One aspect this reviewer enjoyed was the backdrop of the town of West Bay and the life that the villagers had in this small beach town. Cox did a good job describing the harbor and the beach and the shops that lined up along the streets. One can picture the blue skies scattered with puffy clouds and feel the chilly sea breezes as one walks up and down the harbor streets, gazing down at the boats docked in the harbor. It is a very picturesque type of town that will come to one’s mind, helping to lend that “cozy” feel that this reviewer observed was predominant with a lot of the plot.
With that said, this reviewer recommends The Beachcomber for those who enjoy romantic suspense novels, British style. While it can’t be truly considered romantic suspense in the tradition of the likes of Phyllis Whitney, since a good portion of the plot read at a leisurely pace, there is enough action in the book to satisfy those readers who are looking for a good “whodunit”.