Reviewed by Rod McLary
The Beacon is the debut novel of P. A. Thomas and what a debut it is. Set in Byron Bay with a cast of colourful – and some not-so-colourful – characters, it is an exciting read from beginning to end.
Jack Harris – son of Malcolm Harris the all-powerful owner of Harris Media – is sent to Byron Bay to take over one of the last remaining hard copy newspapers of Harris Media. Is he being punished by his father for some misdemeanour? – yes; is there an ulterior motive for sending him there? – yes again. And this is the core of the novel. Patrick O’Shaughnessy the current editor and soon to be displaced by Jack is working on a major and potentially explosive story and suddenly he goes missing. His daughter Caitlin – a high-flying Sydney lawyer until a stash of cocaine was found hidden in her refrigerator – is also in Byron Bay to be near her father while she waits out the subsequent investigation. Inevitably Jack and Caitlin meet and both come to believe that Patrick’s disappearance is suspicious.
There is immediate sexual tension between our two protagonists initially taking the classic form of mutual wariness and some hostility but gradually the underlying attraction grows as the story continues. Both are engaging characters: Jack a former private school boy but with a slightly shady past and good connections to the criminal world; and Caitlin a skilled and fiery lawyer determined to live her life to the fullest. Readers will know immediately where this will likely end but the journey is one to be enjoyed.
But there is still Patrick’s disappearance to solve and, when his body is found, the story takes on a sinister dimension. There is heartache and grief which is compounded by the refusal of the police to acknowledge any doubts about the cause of death. Pooling their resources and drawing on Jack’s links with the Melbourne underworld, he and Caitlin embark on their own investigation. Lurking in the background is Angus Bain – a tabloid journalist of the worst kind – who is determined to discredit Jack and make the newspaper his. Bain provides a sinister and almost comedic counterpoint to the more ethical Parick O’Shaughnessy.
The setting for the novel is Byron Bay and, as it is so present, the township almost becomes a character in its own right. The author lives in Byron Bay and his intimate knowledge of its topography, its beaches and hinterland, and the township’s multi-faceted residents and visitors is very apparent and this adds to the verisimilitude of the plot. There are humorous asides too about the antivaxxers, the 5G opponents, the naturists [the incident between Jack and two of the naturists gives rise to a very humorous exchange even if some revealing photographs of Jack later find their way into the newspaper office].
The author has crafted a tense and exciting crime thriller which entertains as well as thrills. Although The Beacon is essentially plot-driven – the excitement is in the twists and turns of the narrative and the ever-present question: who can be trusted – rather than character-driven, it is buoyed by its humour, the presence of two engaging and likeable protagonists, and a pace which defies the reader to put the book down before finishing it.
Well worth reading.
by P. A. Thomas
ISBN 978 176068 862 2