Claustrophobic Murder Mystery Swerves Between Truths and Lies

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What’s it About?

A delicious and psychologically astute side-by-side story about murder and a woman and her missing family

Reef Road by Deborah Goodrich Royce is a delicious and psychologically astute side-by-side story expertly teased out by a crafty writer. On one side, Royce introduces an eccentric writer obsessed with the unsolved 1948 murder of her mother’s girlhood best friend. She observes, “I grew up in the shadow of a dead girl–a girl I had never met, whose family had never heard of me… the death of this girl long before I was born has clung like pollen to my life.” 


On the other side, we discover a wife with a seemingly picture-perfect family—a successful husband and two adorable children—that has gone missing. All wasn’t well preceding their departure, we learn. For example, Linda thinks back to her time before Covid, when visits north to attend to her floundering parents allowed her to quell “The agitation that lived in her core.” She reflects on the miles her husband accumulated from constant travel, which then allowed her to escape the reality of their ever-deteriorating marriage: “Miguel’s little prize for her. He had given her pain and, at the same time, offered its balm. Like the Mayan legend that claims that, in the wild, every poison is accompanied by its own antidote within the radius of human vision.”    

This is an apt observation, for vision, spying, and surveillance abound throughout the book, including with the writer and her increasingly frenetic efforts at befriending Linda. The writer pokes around on Reef Road, located in a lush enclave of Palm Beach, and she calls it, “The street where Linda lives. The street from which Linda’s husband and children have disappeared… [with] the beach where Linda goes, day after day, in her pointless pursuit of relief.” The writer’s seemingly innocuous friendship with Linda grows even while she seems to confide. She educates us readers: relief from tragedy never arrives. 


Linda makes bizarre and suspicious decisions, calling into question her explanations and timeline of events. For an extra dose of intensity, nearly as our patience as readers reaches a breaking point, Royce throws in a startling twist about the two characters’ deeper connection. Covid restrictions quickly create increasingly claustrophobic living situations for both Linda and the writer and complicate the police’s efforts at locating Linda’s family. The writer calls this period “monastic and inward looking” and says, “It is the moment we meet ourselves.” Indeed, both women’s inner demons and regrets crop up and intensify. Flashbacks detail the writer’s mother’s paranoia–the lingering aftereffects of tragedy. At the same time, we as readers rightly see that the writer represents the paragon of an unreliable narrator: one who adores bending the truth with both us and Linda as she becomes entangled in the ongoing mystery concerning Linda’s family. How much is the writer actually revealing, and how much is she concealing? Royce’s skill in the writer’s seemingly confessional chapters makes them feel alarmingly real. 


Police scrutiny sees Linda moving about like a zoo animal. Little does she know, at this point, the writer, too, surveils her obsessively, monitoring Linda’s whereabouts and timing visits to seem serendipitous. The true nature of Linda’s marriage comes to light, along with more recent miscalculations, and yet–again, in a nod to Royce’s shrewd plotting–we still might not fully guess what’s become of her family until the end. As the action reaches a boiling point, the denouement asks whether the entire tale as we have come to see it has actually functioned as an illusion. 


About the author:

Deborah Goodrich Royce’s thrillers examine puzzles of identity. Ruby Falls won the Zibby Award for Best Plot Twist in 2021 and Finding Mrs. Ford was hailed by Forbes, Book Riot, and Good Morning America’s “best of” lists in 2019. She began as an actress on All My Children and in multiple films, before transitioning to the role of story editor at Miramax Films, developing Emma and early versions of Chicago and A Wrinkle in Time. With her husband, Chuck, Deborah restored the Avon Theatre, Ocean House Hotel, Deer Mountain Inn, United Theatre, Savoy Bookstore, and numerous Main Street revitalization projects in Rhode Island and the Catskills. She serves on the governing and advisory boards of the American Film Institute, Greenwich International Film Festival, New York Botanical Garden, Greenwich Historical Society, and the PRASAD Project. Deborah holds a bachelor’s degree in modern foreign languages and an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Lake Erie College.

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