Book Review: The Swell by Allie Reynolds
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (July 19, 2022)
Length: 368 pages
Allie Reynolds has done it again! Last year, her spectacular debut Shiver took me on a wild ride of a locked-room murder mystery in the French Alps, and this time she takes us to the coastal paradise of a remote beach in southern Australia in The Swell.
The story begins as our protagonist, British sports therapist Kenna Ward, travels to Sydney to visit her best friend Mikki who had recently announced her engagement. But Kenna has not arrived in a celebratory mood. In fact, she’s suspicious about Jack, Mikki’s fiancé. Kenna is worried that her friend is about to rush into a marriage with this strange man she barely knows, and that Jack is only after Mikki’s family fortune. She has come to Australia hoping to find proof of her suspicions and warn Mikki off before it is too late.
Unfortunately, Kenna’s arrival could not have come at a more inopportune time. The couple were just about to take off on an extended surfing trip, but then out of the blue, Jack extends an invitation to Kenna to tag along. Thinking it would give her more time to work on Mikki, Kenna accepts, even though she has sworn off surfing and everything to do with the water ever since her boyfriend drowned three years ago.
Along the way, Jack tells Kenna about their destination, a remote beach and an apparent hidden surfer’s paradise called Sorrow Bay, where they will be meeting up with other members of their tightly knit surfing group. As soon as they arrive though, Kenna is met with hostility from the other “tribe” members, which include Victor, Ryan, Clemente, and the group’s leader, Sky. None of them are too thrilled to have an outsider share in their secret of Sorrow Bay, though eventually, Kenna is considered for membership.
As our protagonist slowly begins to rediscover her love for surfing, she finds Sky’s training methods and the group’s grueling initiation process threatening to push her to her limits. There’s also a certain cult-like quality to the tribe in the way they conduct themselves, and with horror, Kenna soon discovers just how far they’re willing to go to protect their secrets.
If you enjoyed Shiver and were hoping The Swell is similar, well, it is and it isn’t. There’s certainly murder and mystery involved, since one of the elements introduced early on in the story is a case of a missing tourist from Europe who had come to Australia to catch some waves before disappearing without a trace. The plot thickens as we discover that she is not the only surfer who has gone missing in recent weeks…
We also go from the snowy mountains of Shiver to the sandy beaches and heavy waves of Australia, but the camaraderie we get between the characters is surprisingly familiar. Instead of snowboarding though, surfing is the theme of The Swell. Reynolds has experience competing in professional snowboarding which clearly showed in Shiver, where she deftly portrayed the cutthroat competitive athlete culture and mindset. Her author bio now states she sticks mostly to surfing these days, and while you can certainly glean her avid interest in the sport through her writing, she doesn’t get too technical and the story is still very accessible and easy to follow.
The selling point of The Swell though, is the atmosphere and sense of unease. The story is revealed gradually through multiple POVs, and the questions begin right away starting with the relationship between Kenna and Mikki. They claim they are best friends, but there is just something off about their dynamic that points to some unspoken history. And then there’s Jack, whom you are immediately made to suspect, but could that be just misdirection. Once the trio arrive at Sorrow Bay, the relationships get even more complex. There’s almost a cult-like obsession with the way the tribe views their little hideaway as sacred ground or revere the act of surfing as something that goes beyond just a sport or hobby. If you’ve ever read Alex Garland’s The Beach, there is something here that is very reminiscent of that.
Plus, Allie Reynolds just has a wonderful gift with words. If I wasn’t a huge fan already, I am now. You can practically hear the ocean waves and smell the salt coming off the water; I just loved the way her writing brought the setting to life. The story was also suspenseful— though perhaps not as thrilling or filled with harrowing action as her previous book, but still addicting and compulsive, not to mention the ending had one hell of a twist! If you want to know whether The Swell is a great book for summer, the answer is a resounding YES.