“It was easy to cross the next barrier in an ever-collapsing string of them.”
Deborah Goodrich Royce’s novel, Reef Road, begins in 2020 with the discovery of a severed human hand that washes up in Palm Beach Florida. From that point, the novel splits into two storylines: one is told by “the wife” Linda Alonso and “the writer” Noelle. Middle-aged Noelle lives a lonely life in Florida and her life is overshadowed (stained) by the 1948 unsolved brutal murder of an eight-year-old girl (also called Noelle). Noelle, the writer’s mother, was permanently damaged by the brutal murder of her friend, and that damage ricocheted to her daughter, Noelle, subsequently named after the murder. So here are these two women: Linda and Noelle. How are they connected?
Linda Alonso lives in an upscale neighborhood with her Argentinean husband, Miguel, and two small children. We know almost immediately that Linda is unhappy in her marriage, and Miguel, as portrayed, is a controlling perfectionist–the sort or person who makes you grit your teeth as you wait for the criticism to fall. At first, Noelle seems just interested in Linda, but over the course of the book, it becomes obvious that this interest is a full-blown obsession.
These two women connect over crime–past and present–when Miguel and the two children disappear. Miguel’s car is found at Miami International airport, and there is evidence that he absconded with the children to Argentina. The lockdown has just began, and with flight restrictions due to COVID, Linda cannot travel to search for her children.
While the idea of this slow-burn novel is intriguing, the two stories which connect in inventive and intriguing ways feel strangely apart. This may be due to the long sections from Noelle regarding the details of the 1948 murder, which was, by the way, based on the very real murder of the author’s mother’s friend. It may be due to some essential information withheld from the plot. With the double use of the name Noelle, there were unclear moments. I liked how the author used COVID in the plot, and I liked the way these two storylines finally collided. The vicious murder of Noelle left scars in the lives of those connected to the crime, and the author cleverly conveys that sense of damage.