The Body on the Beach
Title : The Body on the Beach
Part of the Under the Southern Cross anthology.
Author : L J laBarthe
Publisher : Dreamspinner Press (BUY HERE)
Genre : M/M, Mystery, Suspense, Historical
Length : 109 pages (e-book)
Published : March 13, 2013
In 1920, a body is found on Brighton Beach, Adelaide. Billy Liang has been living a respectable life as the representative of Adelaide’s Chinese community—with his lover, lawyer Tom Williams, discreetly at his side. When evidence seems to implicate the people Billy represents, he steps up to help solve the murder. He and Tom deal with illegal opium dens, fantan games and gambling, racism, and being shot at. Though Billy’s family accepts the love he and Tom share, Australia’s laws against sodomy and homosexuality pose a constant danger. Now, the body on the beach brings a whole new threat to Billy and Tom’s life in Adelaide.
“The Body on the Beach” is set in 1920, in the city of Adelaide, Australia, and it is a historical murder mystery. This novella is an intriguing look at how racial and sexual orientation dictate can how minorities live within a larger, dominant one. It is a look at how the system can be bent to find professional esteem and personal happiness in society. It’s a fascinating, fresh approach in a story and I wanted it to rock my world.
The setup for the story is compelling. Billy Laing and Tom Williams live together in Billy’s home along with Billy’s wife, Hui Zhong, who lives in a separate wing. She has agreed to the relationship with the understanding she will be treated respectfully as Billy’s wife and they will have a child together. Hui is content and she cares for her husband and his lover. Billy is the head of his family and the elected representative of the Chinese community in Adelaide, positions of great esteem.
Events have been running smoothly on Hindley Street for a few weeks. There have been no raids by police in the community or arrests of the people Billy represents, which has allowed him time to manage his family businesses, spend time with his wife and to enjoy his more intimate relationship with Tom. But quiet doesn’t often last long on Hindley Street.
So, when Billy reads the newspaper headline, “Unidentified Body Found at Brighton Beach; Chinese Suspected of Murder and Foul Play,” he is not surprised to be visited by the local police. During that meeting, Detective Chief Constable Smythe of the Hindley Street Police Department expresses concern over the inflammatory headlines, gives Billy the background on the murder investigation and asks Billy to translate the symbol that was carved into the victim’s chest.
Billy has grave concerns that the incendiary tone of the newspaper article will fuel a backlash against the Chinese community so he sends his wife to the country to keep her safe and, with Tom’s help, begins to unravel the mystery of the floater. In the process, we move through all levels of Chinese society and we get to experience firsthand the Chinese community’s position within the larger society in Adelaide.
This is a beautifully written tale with a solid mystery that I enjoyed. But I was left unsatisfied because the book was written by a writer who knows how to write, understands what makes a good mystery, but misses the mark by not developing the main characters. Billy and Tom are so distantly cordial to each other there is no passion between them. I wanted to know the details of how they met, fell in love and committed to each other. Does Tom have a family or friends? I wanted to read those intimate asides, common between lovers and I wanted to know they were still hot for each other. I wanted to know how their life worked.
At the book’s end, I don’t know these characters or who they are to each other. I’m not talking about sex, although there is none to speak of in the book. I’m talking about intimate actions, reactions and dialogue that develop Billy and Tom into memorable main characters. That does not happen in this book. In fact, the liveliest character in the story is Hui, Billy’s wife who makes a couple of colorful, funny appearances at the beginning and end of the book and is further revealed in comments lovingly made by Tom, Billy and George Manos, a close friend and Greek businessman in Adelaide.
The Body on the Beach has a brilliant premise, a solid mystery, gorgeous writing and, initially, intriguing main characters who by the book’s end, sadly, weren’t.
Rated 3.5 stars by Carli