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Useless Bay Hardcover – October 18, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Family secrets and hidden connections drive this exciting, slightly uneven offering. When Grant, the son of a wealthy businessman, goes missing on Washington's Whitby Island, the family calls on the Gray quintuplets to track him down. The strong and fearless siblings are connected to the land in an almost mythical way, and they happen to own the state's best detection dog. They've also been known to harbor Grant when he feels like hiding. As soon as the search begins, it's clear that nobody is quite telling the truth. When Grant's older brother Henry and Pixie, the only female Gray sibling, find the body of Henry's stepmother in the bay, the search becomes an investigation and the intensity spikes. Atmosphere is everything in this book, and Beaufrand paints a lush and loamy natural landscape that mirrors the beauty and the sinister nature of the island's inhabitants and hints at an otherworldly bond Pixie might share with the dead. The action strays off pace at times, and there are a few dialogue holes that might give readers the impression that they have missed something, but the quintuplets' boundless energy and gruesome inquiries always get things back on track. VERDICT A dark and earthy thriller with a touch of romance for large collections.—Beth McIntyre, Madison Public Library, WI
"Short in length but long on atmosphere, it’s a gripping mystery with a supernatural overlay that makes its setting all the more haunting."
"Fans of process crime drama that has a strong sense of place and of characters you want to be friends with should not miss this one."
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I was surprised to see this described as a 'gritty, psychological thriller' here on the goodreads page. This is neither gritty, psychological, nor thrilling. It's the type of mystery you would have read as a child on summer break, grabbing a book and climbing up a tree to read all afternoon in its branches. The narrator's friendly tone, their awe and respect for the rugged coast they call home, and the quaint strangeness of the Gray quintuplets feels nostalgic and welcoming.
A warning for animal lovers - some bad things do happen. But its handled in a way that feels respectful, and the protagonist deals with it in a healthy and responsive manner. I usually cannot tolerate any hint of bad things happening to animals, and was surprised at my reaction to it in this book. Somehow, maybe the way the character reacts, or maybe just the respectful manner of the book towards nature overall, softened the blow and made it easier to move on.
A quaint, charming and nostalgic little mystery that takes you away to a misty coast studded with trees.
I am going to describe some of these strange actions by the novel's characters, and so I am going to reveal most of the plot. There are MAJOR SPOILERS in the following paragraphs. Do not read this review if you intend to read this book.
The central crime of this novel is the murder of Lyudmila (wife of zillionaire Mr. Shepherd) by Joyce (administrative secretary of Mr Shepherd) because Joyce wants to become Mr Shepherd's next wife. Joyce strangles Lyudmila, but the murder is witnessed by 11 yr old Grant Shepherd. Grant is so traumitized by the strangulation of his mother, that he asks Pixie to row him across Useless Bay - but he doesn't tell Pixie what he saw (why not?). Pixie rows part way across the Bay, and then turns around and rows back, not learning why Grant is upset. Grant then goes to his sister Meredith and Pixie's brother Sammy, and tells THEM about the murder. Sammy and Meredith take Grant to a berry farm where he can safely hide from the murderous Joyce (though Joyce has no idea that her crime was witnessed, so why would she be a threat to Grant?).
Do Sammy and Meredith then tell the police what happened? No. Do they warn their siblings about the murderous Joyce? No. When the F.B.I. gets involved, does Sammy tell them? No. At the end of the novel, Sammy explains: "We couldn't tell you about Grant's location or that Joyce killed Lyudmila, because that would have ruined the plot of this dumb novel." Oops, my bad - what Sammy really says is: "We've been trying to buy time until something better comes up. We've been trying to think of a way to prove that Joyce did it while Grant is still safely hidden. We didn't want him to have to relive it for the cops after what he has gone through." Rather than enlist the aid of his sibling's (with whom he has an almost spiritual bond), Sammy has been keeping the mystery secret so that the plot can advance. How does Sammy try to prove that Joyce did it? (they already have proof - Grant was an eyewitness!) Apparently Sammy plan to find proof of Joyce's guilt is to make out with Meredith in the boathouse.
The answer to the big mystery of what happened to Grant turns out to be a puzzle only because Sammy won't tell his siblings where and why Grant is hiding. I hate cheap plot points that depend on the characters not telling each other obvious information, concealing vital knowledge simply so that the novel's plot can continue.
The heroine of the story is Pixie, a teenager who has 4 brothers: Frank, Sammy, Dean and Lawton, the five were born as quintuplets. The five of them share a mysterious rapport - they are so in-tune with each other that the five of them can win high school basketball championships against teams with better talent (I thought this was a strange remark - there are coed high school teams in the state of Washington?? Not in Seattle, where I live.) When Pixie "dies" due to the sting of the jelly fish, Frank falls over too, as if he suffers a "sympathetic" death when Pixie dies. The author asks the question: did Sammy, Lawton and Dean also collapse when Pixie "died"? The question is never answered. Nor is there any other sign of sympathetic links between the quintuplets - when Sammy gets his fingers shot off, none of his siblings feel pain in their hands. The "sympathetic" death of Frank was a strange, unexplained event and I wonder why an editor didn't ask the author to resolve it.
The guard named Yuri is the most baffling. Nothing he does makes any sense (except to further the plot). When Grant goes missing, Yuri disappears too. Why? Apparently Yuri knows that Joyce has murdered Lyudmila (but how could he know, since Joyce has rigged the security cameras to display a loop that shows empty buildings over and over again.) Why didn't Yuri run to help Lyudmila? Why does Yuri go into hiding - he certainly couldn't be afraid of Joyce. When Pixie searchs the guardhouse, she finds that Yuri has left his Kalashnikov behind, so Pixie hides his assault rifle, she "camouflages it in such a way that you'd only know it was there if you looked for it". Nonetheless, Joyce is apparently spying on the guardhouse with a hidden camera (why would Joyce put a camera in the guardhouse and monitor it all the time?); Joyces grabs the Kalashnikov, uses it to shoot Patience (the tracking hound) and then returns the gun to the guardhouse. Yuri reappears a few days later (why? Where has he been?) and decides that his best course of action is to pick up the assault rifle, and meet the teenage Pixie in her bedroom with the lights off (what?!?!). We never get an explanation why Yuri thinks that he needs to talk to Pixie, all we learn is that Yuri says "we were outspied". Once the reader learns that Joyce killed Lyudmila and that Grant saw it happen and now is in hiding, Yuri's "outspied" remark makes no sense.
We don't find out what Yuri was thinking because Sheriff Lundquist shoots Yuri right between the eyes. Imagine how impossible that shot is - Lundquist is outside, Yuri is inside the bedroom with no lights on - and yet somehow Lundquist can hit Yuri between the eyes? Have you ever tried to look into a window of a darkened room? It would be impossible for Sheriff Lundquist to see anything. When Lundquist fires, there is a "thwip" noise instead of a gunshot boom - why is Sheriff Lundquist using a silencer? There is no mention of broken glass from the shattered window.
Why did Joyce steal the Kalashnikov to shoot Patience the dog? Patience was going to track down Grant, the missing son of Mr. Shepherd. Joyce would have no problem with Grant being found (Joyce has no idea that Grant witnessed the murder scene). Why shoot the dog, and then carry the bloody dead beast out into the bay to hide the body? Wouldn't Joyce be coated in blood and soaking wet?
Why does Joyce soak the murder scene in bleach? Lyudmila was strangled - there is no blood to clean up. Yet when Lyudmila's body is found beneath the sunken, over-turned rowboat, it still reeks of bleach despite soaking for hours out in the bay. Imagine how difficult it would have been for Joyce to put Lyudmila's body into a rowboat, and then push the rowboat beneath the surface so that it sinks, and then overturn the rowboat. Incredible strength. Why doesn't Joyce return to the house soaking wet and smelling of bleach?
Joyce explains her plot (just before she gets killed by a supernatural tide monster - don't ask) because the villain ALWAYS explains his/her evil deeds - this is a staple of every Scooby Doo plot (Except Scooby Doo is a funny cartoon, and it has a catchy theme song.) Joyce explains that she needed to kill Lyudmila so that the she would be free to marry the zillionaire Mr Shepherd. Joyce remarks "well, I meant to do this when I was 30, and now I am 42, but I still might be able to get pregnant". Huh? This crazy impulsive strangulation plot is the result of 12 years of planning? Why did Joyce wait so long to kill Lyudmila?
There are more unbelievable events - such as Joyce's crazy plot to burn Henry with cigarettes so that Mr Shepherd would divorce his first wife - I am not exaggerating, that scheme is really in the novel. This book is a huge disappointment. Avoid it. Not recommended.
This book is great fun to read. One never quite knows when something mythical and amazing is going to suddenly happen. Those are mixed in with more mundane happenings like murder and kidnapping to create quite the setting for mayhem. Still, there is a feeling of truth through it all, of teens rising up through difficulty to heroism. There is a sense of fate and of purpose too, of destiny combined with the wonder of magic and myth.
The writing is strong and direct. It is haunted with death and pays homage to the damage of abuse and the strength of family. This book is not simple or easy, it is strung with danger and traps. The entire feel of suspense and the claustrophobic island setting combine to create a feeling of doom laced beautifully with hope and love.
A teen novel that is a compelling and vastly enjoyable read, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
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This book starts out in a very mysterious way, first establishing the characters then heading on...Read more