Beach of the Dead
by Cynthia J. Bogard
Genre: Historical Fiction
Print Length: 318 pages
Reviewed by Elizabeth Reiser
A quietly compelling story about regret, love, and redemption
Set in 1986, Beach of the Dead is about justice and the kindness of strangers. The novel starts with a bang with protagonist Jane on the run after murdering her graduate student advisor. With no one she can turn to, she makes her way from Texas to Mexico, reinventing herself along the way.
Almost immediately upon embarking on her journey, Jane meets several locals willing to help her settle into her new life. Her first new friend Alex, a gay man hiding his sexuality from his family, helps her form her new identity as Ana. She then makes her way to Zipolite, a hippie enclave where no one will dive into her past.
Once at the beach, Ana is embraced by many of the local characters, even securing a job. Before long, she meets a charismatic woman who causes her to see she can fall in love. As her new life takes shape, Ana finds herself torn between wanting to protect the life she is creating and being open and honest with all the friends she is growing to care about.
After the attention-grabbing murder, the pacing slows down and the plot becomes much more character driven. Each character is unique and carrying their own baggage; they are empathetic and accepting, an ideal refuge for the tormented Ana. It is clear this is someone who has been treated badly throughout her life and is looking for a sense of belonging.
As Ana builds relationships within the community of Zipolite, the tension of the story drifts away from the murder. Instead, it comes from her desperation to hold onto this new life she is building while releasing the guilt she feels for both her regrettable actions and for not being honest about her past.
Bogard uses the location of Zipolite as a sort of character in itself. With its beautiful beaches and communal living, it is an ideal location for hippies and a haven for the LGBTQ community, which are both essential points to the plot.
Some of the language comes across as stilted, specifically when the characters are being vulnerable with one another. As a result, it does take the reader out of the moment and loses some of its emotional impact. While this can be read as a standalone, having the context from the first book in this series could enhance the experience for the reader, as many of the characters are recurring.
Although a bit slow moving in parts, Beach of the Dead is a compelling story about regret, love, and redemption. Unique characters and an idyllic setting will keep plenty of readers engaged.
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