JOINT REVIEW: Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon
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 Arlingtons’ 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 Arlingtons’ 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…
Dear Josh Lanyon,
Sirius and I both looked forward to your new standalone mystery and rather than flip a coin to decide who won the right to review it, we wrote a joint conversational review.
Sirius: I thought this book was your best book since you came back from your sabbatical – right till almost the end when the main twist of the plot was revealed. I thought it was an elegantly written mystery and romance felt like a natural, organic part of it, but I just did not buy the twist – at all. Note, I am not talking about any realism here – I do not need realism in my escapism fiction, but I need it to be believable. The twist was too much of a coincidence for me to buy into and that is the only reason why I did not grade the book any higher. And I even *liked it* on the emotional level – it was all nicely foreshadowed, in fact I started having suspicions about it in the second half of the book, but I was so hoping that it would not be true. Alas, it was. And I cannot say *a single word* about this twist, because it will reveal the biggest spoiler in this novel. I do not want to even put it in under spoiler tags, because it will ruin any chance of the surprise for all readers.
Sunita: I didn’t hate the twist nearly as much as you did, Sirius! Like you, I started to have my suspicions fairly early on. It recalled other mysteries to me (including some favorites, but I won’t say which ones because spoilers).
Sirius: Let’s start from the beginning. I thought the blurb was written perfectly – it tells the reader about a mystery, hints at how annoying Brian’s family could be, hints *very* vaguely at “there was so much to the story – much more”, but avoids any specific details whatsoever.
Griff Hadley seemed to dream about writing this book about one of the most famous kidnappings of the last two decades for years. Griff is 27 years old and he seems to really eager to write this book.
While of course he wants to make a break in his career, he is also very invested in finding answers in this case. Secretly, or not so secretly, Griff is hoping that he will be able to find something that both the FBI and the police missed in this case, something that will either prove conclusively whether Brian’s convicted kidnapper is guilty. The man who was convicted of the crime was one of the staff at the Arlington family estate, and while he did not deny that he wrote a ransom note, he claimed that he only wrote it to extort money from the family after the kidnapping. He insisted that never kidnapped Brian and did not know what happened to him. He was convicted anyway as the most likely suspect at the time.
When Griff arrives at the estate, members of the family do not seem to be very cooperative at all. In fact I thought that most of them incorporated the worst stereotypes of “rich and famous” – acting as if they are better than everybody else just because they have money even if they never worked in their entire lives and by work I do not mean doing hard physical labor necessarily. Maybe those stereotypes are true, I have no idea, but initially I just could not bring myself to feel much sympathy for this family – all except the grandfather, who seemed to be genuinely in pain over Brian’s kidnapping and apparent murder even after two decades. Of course most of them stopped being stereotypes and became more human over the course of the story, but I still did not warm up to most members of the family all that much for various reasons.
Sunita: I agree that the family seemed a bit stereotyped. Rich people come in all types and levels of likability, but initially these characters seemed more like types than individuals. But I attributed that to the type of mystery that Lanyon seemed to be writing: it felt like a classic country-estate mystery combined with a Lindbergh style missing child mystery. Although it is set in the present and people use cellphones and other modern technology, there was a timeless feel to the setting and the character interactions. The first half of the story is set almost completely on the estate and there is a tight focus on the characters and the setting, evoked in Lanyon’s effective, atmospheric prose:
Griff took a final glance in the mirror, swore, and headed back to the bathroom to have one last shot at slicking down the persistent cowlick that made him look about twelve. It didn’t seem to matter what kind of haircut he got, he always ended up looking like Dennis the Menace.
Finally, having run out of reasons to stall, Griff left the cottage, walking across the wooden bridge and hiking up the brick path to the villa. Bloodred sunset splashed across the ivory sky, but inside the tunnel of trees it was nearly dark. Discreet blue-white lights shone at the base of the trees to light the way.
The bees were gone, the birds silent. There was no sound but his footfalls on the old bricks. It was so quiet he thought he could hear the distant crash and thunder of waves.
Already he had a better sense of what the size of the estate meant in practical terms. So much ground to search, so many places to hide. Even if the kidnappers hadn’t had that significant head start, they would have had a number of advantages.
Griff left the shelter of the trees and the house stood before him, lights blazing in welcome. Of course, it wasn’t actually in welcome. It was in complete disregard for natural resources and indifference to utility bills.
Sirius: Griff is determined to continue despite the fact that the only family member that is particularly happy with him being there and asking questions is the patriarch (and I am not sure if his state of mind could be described as happy – he just really wanted answers and hoped to get them from whoever could provide it). Pierce Mather, the family lawyer who has grown up with the Arlingtons, also tries hard to get Griff to back off, but to no avail.
I really liked Griff – I liked that while he is Lanyon’s “vulnerable” hero type, his vulnerability did not overshadow who he was, was both important and at the same time not overpowering for the plot. I have to be really vague here because I am afraid that it may hint at some important spoiler developments. Griff is stubborn and tough and I thought he was really smart. I enjoyed getting to know him a lot and wanted him to succeed in what he wanted to achieve.
Pierce is the “arrogant, annoying” character type, but he is also loyal and intelligent, and fiercely protective. While I really wanted to slap him several times throughout the story, I understood the reason for his actions and he did not go over the line which exists in my mind in order for the characters like him to annoy me. I really liked the beginning of the romance between them – it only takes a week while Griff is at the estate and they connect, but it felt right and completely satisfying for me.
Sunita: I agree with you on the characters. I was thinking after I finished the story that Griff was like some of his predecessor characters but he definitely had more steel in his spine, or at least he seemed more comfortable with who he was and his background. The repeated comparisons of his modest upbringing with the fabulous wealth of the Arlingtons didn’t work for me that well, but it’s a traditional motif (think of the movie Sabrina, for example).
Pierce started as the type but turned into his own person fairly quickly. Again, he was reminiscent of other Lanyon characters but he was fully fleshed out rather than being written through author shortcuts, so that made him work for me even though, like you, I find the arrogant, annoying character can get old pretty fast. Here his arrogance seemed to fit his character, and it didn’t define him. And his annoying traits were as much a result of him doing his job as anything. I like characters who are shaped by their occupations, especially when those occupations are demanding, and Lanyon as usual conveys this very well.
I also thought some of the smaller characters were very well depicted, especially the two Arlington sisters and Pierce’s sister Diana.
The mystery worked well for me. It unfolded slowly, there were a few red herrings, just enough to keep me interested but not so many that I got irritated, and the twist that comes two-thirds of the way through was excellent. On the one hand it was completely predictable to a seasoned mystery reader, but on the other I honestly did not know how it was going to turn out: there was just enough detail to make me unsure that the obvious answer was the right one. This, combined with the big twist at the end, made for an engrossing second half of the book. And I really liked the way The Great Gatsby (the book, not the movies) framed and informed the story both explicitly and implicitly.
Sirius: So how do I grade this book? I liked everything in there, but I did not buy the twist as I said in the beginning and pretty much without this twist this story would not have existed – the events would have unfolded differently, it is that central to the plot. I give it a B-.
Sunita: As I said at the outset, I wasn’t nearly as bothered by the Big Reveal, either because it made sense to me or because it’s one I’ve read and enjoyed before. I liked the blend of classic-mystery tropes in a more contemporary, romance-novel setting, so I give it a B.
I don’t read a lot of m/m romance but everything I hear about Josh Lanyon has me thinking I should take a dip. Would this book be a good place to start?
@MrsJoseph: As a stand-alone, sure, it is as good as any to start IMO. His Adrien English series are probably his most popular books, but those are series, and couple’s HEA is only in the last book.
If you do not mind historicals, one of his strongest stand alones for me is novella “Snowball in hell”, I thought that one was great.
I’ve been rec’ed Adrien English before, good to know!
I just looked up Snowball in Hell – it’s also a series. Is there an HEA in this one?
@MrsJoseph: Snowball in hell is a stand-alone. I heard he is planning a sequel, but it had been promised for years :). If it comes out it will be great, but right now as far as I am aware it is a stand-alone :).
There is a HFN ending.
Lanyon is an autobuy for me, so I’ve had this in my TBR pile since last month. Based on your joint review, I think I’ll start it as soon as I’ve finished my current book.
I’m wondering if the big reveal is what I’m already thinking it is? Was that a Freudian slip, Sirius? Regardless, I’m looking forward to the book.
Lanyon is an auto-buy for me, so I’ve had this in my TBR pile since last month. Based on the joint review, I think I’ll start it after I finish my current read.
I wonder if the big reveal is what I’m already thinking it is. Was that a Freudian slip, Sirius? Regardless, I’m looking forward to it.
(Haha. My first post didn’t go thru, so I obviously flunked my basic arithmetic question. Pretty bad considering my profession.)
@MrsJoseph: Out of the Blue is a standalone WWI story, and The Dickens with Love is contemporary short story/novella (I can’t really tell which) about a lost Dickens manuscript. Both of those would also be good places to stick your toe in the water. But, as Sirius mentioned, the Adrien English series is probably the most popular, and for good reason. You couldn’t go wrong if you decided to start there, even tho it would be more of a commitment. The Holmes and Moriarity books are also good. There are only 2 in the series (so far) and there are a lot of similarities to the AE series–sort of AE Lite, IMO.
I agree with all the recommendations for where to start, although Adrien English really requires a commitment to all 5 books to get the full relationship arc, and I don’t think the first one is as strong as the ones that follow.
I’d also add Fair Game and Come Unto These Yellow Sands as excellent first choices that are standalones. I believe there eventually might be a sequel to Fair Game but it was written as a standalone and the ending is HFN verging on HEA.
What I like about this new book is that it is driven by the mystery plot (like Fair Game) but it also has a classic-mystery feel.
I really want to read this now, so I can find out what the twist is! Stupid work getting in the way of my reading time.
Also, every time I read the words “the twist” in your review, in my head I heard the voice from the Robot Chicken short called M. Night Shyamalan’s The Twist saying it. :-D
I’d second the recommendation of Come Unto These Yellow Sands — not only is it a stand-alone, but it’s also one of his best books.
I got to 92% before my Kindle ran out of juice, but I’m pretty sure I knew what the “big twist” is, and also at least one of the books it reminds Sunita, of just from reading this review plus the blurb.
ETA: They’re making us do math now? Oh well, at least it’s better than trying to read those distorted letters-and-numbers thingies.
@MrsJoseph: I absolutely loved Josh Lanyon’s The Haunted Heart Winter. I think it is the start of a series but it stands alone and has a HFN. I thought it was really good and creepy.
I didn’t read the review because I have this one on the tbr. Looking forward to it. I’ve been reading a few mysteries lately. I’m really bad at it – hopeless at solving the puzzles – but maybe I’ll get better with practice!
@Sunita: OOO I love “Fair game” too.
@Liz C.: Heh. Hopefully you will believe in *the twist* more than I did. It is so strange – if I buy into *the twist* everything else is good, because as story unfolded I thought it was very well foreshadowed. It is just the likelihood of that happening in the first place…
Sirius, I think your review is still inadvertently giving away the twist. . .
@Susan: If you are not joking, it means I am disappointed with myself, because I tried very very hard not to. :).
@Sirius: You can delete this comment if you need to, but I think you used a different name than you meant to in the last sentence below. Sorry if I’m mistaken, tho.
[Edited by Sunita to remove spoiler example.]
@Susan: Thanks! I’ve edited the review and your comment so that future readers can be unspoiled. So glad you picked that up! It could have been me when I was editing and prepping the post. *headdesk*
Thanks Susan. Sunita thanks for helping. My phone is really too small to try to edit and risk another typo.
I really enjoyed this one. It’s a nice blend of mystery and romance. I also think that Fair Game and Come Unto These Yellow Sands are other excellent Lanyon books.
I left quite a long comment earlier, and I think that I did get the maths right (8 + 5 = 13). Is it lost forever or stuck in limbo somewhere?
@HJ: I’m so sorry, but I don’t see it in spam or trash. >:-(
Second attempt at leaving a comment, and of course I’ve lost that initial fluency!
I would definitely give this book a higher grade and recommend it strongly, and not only because I am a fan of Josh Lanyon. I really enjoyed this book both as a mystery and a romance, and liked it even more on a re-read (when I enjoyed seeing clearly how everything was revealed).
I was reading mysteries years before I read romances, and I find that Stranger on the Shore satisfies me both as a mystery and as a romance. I think that you should have gone with your first instinct, Sirius, and graded the book as Josh’s best since he came back from sabbatical, because as a confirmed mystery reader I do not find the “main twist” too much of a coincidence. This is partly because such twists are usual in mysteries (I could give some very germane examples but they might be spoilers), but mainly because the reader is given all the information she needs to be able to work it out (just as Pierce does). It’s difficult to defend this position while avoiding spoilers, but if you re-read you’ll see that — even as early as Griff’s first meeting with the housekeeper! I think we are intended to be able to guess the key point but to have to try to work out the extent to which there is deliberate deception, and why or why not.
As to the stereotyping, remember whose point of view we see everything from and who has taught him to see that way (and especially that he didn’t go to school and so had no alternative influences during his formative years). Add the rose-tint of The Great Gatsby and his point of view is very likely. I think it’s also part of the whole “is he an impostor” plot point.
@HJ: Actually I already upped my grade from my original one :). As Sunita can attest to, when we discussed the book my original grade was C+, but it kept bugging me and I decided that it was not fair to the book. I am very comfortable with B- though.
Ugh, I am at loss how to discuss *the twist* without actually discussing it, but I am going to try. Of course there are certain things in mysteries which kept repeating itself. I can still find some plot twists believable and some not, even if most of them are typical mystery plot devices.
But I just want to stress that it is *not* the reveal itself that I found eye roll worthy. No, it is the fact that Griff actually came to mansion (why? why now? why did he really want that so much?)) in the first place PLUS the reveal. Does it make sense? Not in a sense that I want to convince you of anything, but just trying to make my POV more clear. That was too much of the coincidence to me.
Oh, I forgot the title of Christie’s mystery where the narrator turns out to be the perpetrator, but I do think that this one would be a good example to use. (Not a spoiler people, no worries :)).
That twist is I believe less typical in the mysteries, right, because usually we expect the narrator to turn out to be a good guy, whether he or she is an investigator, or somebody else? Nevertheless, it was perfectly believable to me as far as I was concerned – atypical or not. I love mysteries, but I am by no means a hardcore mystery reader.
So whether this twist a typical one or not, to me personally is irrelevant to whether I can buy it.
Sorry: re stereotypes. I see your point, however their actions are described, not just Griff’s opinions about them and their actions felt pretty stereotypical to me.
@Sirius: I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all. It is very hard to discuss this without spoilers, though, so I won’t say more. Maybe we could have a thread for people who’ve already read the book?
@etv13: I don’t know – hesitant to open this one to spoilers just yet. I wonder if we can go to the monthly thread for readers. Let me ask. Still no matter how carefully we will mark our posts with spoilers, folks may not be happy reading it.
@etv13: I came down on the side of not discussing spoilers just because I worry of accidentally spoiling someone who really does not want to be, you know? And this spoiler is just too big. Even if we put the spoilers tags, I remember how I forgot a character and spoiler tags did not work right away.
I can’t imagine anyone reading the blurb and then being told there’s a twist and not knowing exactly what the twist is, spoilers or no. (But I still enjoyed reading it.)