From the very first pages of Michele Campbell’s new novel, A Stranger On The Beach, it’s like an old friend is catching you up on what has been going on while you were away. Just like sitting in your best friend’s kitchen while she fills you in on all the gossip, there are tantalising hints of where this story is going to go. But by the time this tension-filled wild ride is over, you may not know who or what to believe…but your head will be spinning! At less than 30 pages in, I found myself hoping someone had already purchased the movie rights, and by page 50, I had already started casting it in my head.
Caroline has been married for 20 years, her daughter has just gone off to college, and she and her husband, Jason, have just purchased a brand-new beachfront house. From chapter one, you realise Caroline is consistently referring to it as “my” house, rather than “our” house, but you tell yourself that’s easy to overlook. Soon, however, Caroline and Jason’s marital and personal issues are on full display at the housewarming party Caroline throws to celebrate her dream house by the ocean.
From that point forward, there are twists and turns all the way to the end. Several times while reading, it would be easy to say “Oh, I know where this is going”, but no, no you don’t. Trust me. However, without a doubt, you will absolutely enjoy getting there.
Throughout the story, as the reader, some of the events are told from a couple of different perspectives. It takes just a bit to realise what is going on and re-orient yourself, as the chapters aren’t designated or titled in a way that signifies this shift in perspectives. This is not a bad thing, by any means. It’s simply a creative choice compared to how most books handle this story-telling device.
The shift in perspectives starts to bring up the problem for the reader as to who they should believe. Sometimes it isn’t just perspectives, but completely different accounts of the same time period. Some facts maybe even diametrically opposed to each other. So, who to believe? This question helps build the tension throughout the novel.
Still keeping this review-spoiler free, I can say that a large part of the climax of this story takes place with a storm impending. As someone who lives in a hurricane-prone area (on the Gulf of Mexico), I can personally verify that Campbell does an excellent job of conveying the fear, anxiety, and isolation that come with a large storm heading toward land, and that feeling of having to decide to leave or stay, as well as the feeling in the pit of your stomach when areas start to flood and you no longer have the option of changing your mind about leaving or staying. The atmosphere she writes into the story at this point is palpable.
This book will grab you, hold on to you, and not let you put it down. The story is exciting, the characters (while not always likeable) are very real, and the writing is so cinematic you can’t help but picture this playing out in your head like a movie.
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Synopsis | Goodreads
There is a stranger outside Caroline’s house.
Her spectacular new beach house, built for hosting expensive parties and vacationing with the family she thought she’d have. But her husband is lying to her and everything in her life is upside down, so when the stranger, Aiden, shows up as a bartender at the same party where Caroline and her husband have a very public fight, it doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.
As her marriage collapses around her and the lavish lifestyle she’s built for herself starts to crumble, Caroline turns to Aiden for comfort…and revenge. After a brief and desperate fling that means nothing to Caroline and everything to him, Aiden’s obsession with Caroline, her family, and her house grows more and more disturbing. And when Caroline’s husband goes missing, her life descends into a nightmare that leaves her accused of her own husband’s murder.