It is so invigorating to get sucked in to a well written mystery. The slow reveal, the peeling back of the onion that is each complex character, and the well positioned cliff hanger at the end of each short chapter captures and engages even the shortest of attention spans. I’m so excited to let you know the author of Finding Mrs. Ford and Ruby Falls, Deborah Goodrich Royce, has a new, exceptional literary thriller to devour! I am a big fan of Deborah’s and if you don’t know her work, please check it out!
Reef Road is captivating, twisty, sexy and mysterious with an element of creepy to spark your interest. (I couldn’t look away!) It kicks off with two young surfers finding something sinister in the water off Reef Road (think human body part). And so begins the story of the Wife, her handsome husband and young children. Their tension filled relationship reveals itself during the heart of the pandemic as we learn about an unsolved murder, witness an extramarital affair, welcome a mysterious stranger to the home, and get caught up in the dubious disappearance of a family member. In alternating chapters, we hear from The Writer, a slightly obsessive observer of the Wife and her family, who is uniquely connected to them, as she shares her own musings.
I love continually questioning the reliability of each of the characters as bits and pieces of the whole picture are brought into focus. Without giving anything away, all I can say is this page turner is a MUST to get you through a winter weekend! Deborah Royce’s storytelling gets better and better and with Reef Road she is at the top of her game! The impact of trauma from the past, isolation due to the pandemic, scandalous behavior and lies topped off with a voice of the unhinged all shared in short chapters brought these layered characters and juicy story to life… so enjoyable! I highly recommend Reef Road!
Author Q & A
Q: Reef Road is essentially two mysteries that intersect, one is in the past and unsolved, and the other happens right before our eyes. What inspired you to write this story?
A: My mother’s best friend was murdered when they—both my mom and her friend—were only twelve years old. For as long as I can remember, I have known about this terrible event and the effect it had on my mother. Because it was an unsolved case, I think that effect was magnified. Through a weird series of connections, I happen to know that the case was reopened in 2008, to briefly have a light shone upon it, only to eventually drop back into the unsolved file. So, to put it mildly, this case—and cases like it—have always been of great interest to me.
Q: Is the location based on a real place and how did you settle on the name of the book?
A: I always set my fiction in real places. I happen to love that extra frisson of excitement that I get as a reader when I recognize a place I know. It also makes it so much easier to be very specific about details of place—a particular house, a path to a beach, a bakery that sits on a recognizable street. The two settings in Reef Road are quite real. I used the exact Homewood-Brushton neighborhood in Pittsburgh where my mother grew up for the childhood setting of the murder. And I also used Palm Beach—the place where the modern storyline is set—exactly as it is.
The name, Reef Road, came from my choice of the street where The Wife and her family would live. Because I was writing in the pandemic lockdown of 2020, I rode my bicycle around the island of Palm Beach which was eerily empty and devoid of traffic. As I explored neighborhoods, I came upon Reef Road—the actual street and the famous surfing beach at the end of it. I instantly knew I had my title! Similar to Cape Fear—the name of a real place and the name of a film (interestingly based on a novel by a different name, but I digress!)—it conjures up a sense of danger or foreboding. It is perfect for the mood I wanted the reader to feel on page one.
Q: Chapters that follow Linda, the wife, bring the present story forward, and alternate with chapters of the writer’s thoughts, giving us additional information we cannot “see.” Was it difficult for you to switch back and forth? Did you write the sequence that appears in the book?
A: In Reef Road, the changing chapters were made easier for me to keep straight by using different voices. The Writer’s chapters are written in first person, very much like diary entries, and are often a stream of her thoughts, impressions, and feelings. The Wife’s chapters exist like a book within a book—they have their own title and their own distinct chapter numbers, which differ from the actual chapters of the novel. I wanted the reader to have the impression that the story of Linda Alonso, the wife, might be something that the writer is making up.
I tend to write my novels in the sequence in which they will be read. I know of other authors who write separate time periods all at once, or distinct character’s voices all at once. Maybe because I was on a soap opera in my first acting job, I just love the cliffhanger transitions from one chapter to the next, one storyline to the next. And the way I achieve that page-turning suspense is by writing in sequential order.
Q: We started reading books set during the time of the pandemic this year; did you grapple with the idea of setting your mystery in that time period or did you just know that was what you wanted to do? (I love this line in the book that describes the time during the pandemic; “It is monastic and inward looking. It is the moment we meet ourselves “. )
A: I once read that if you just write what is happening each day as it happens, you are writing history. The Coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown of 2020 were unprecedented in our lifetime. Certainly we in the western world had not lived through anything even remotely similar. I realize there are war-torn regions of our globe as we speak but—for many of us—those areas and their tragedies exist at a remove.
Right now, I just finished reading Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout. I waited until now to read it because we write about the exact same period of time and we both deal with real events that were happening, specifically the lockdown and the varying reactions to it. Her book is extraordinary—no surprises there—and it would not have been even remotely the same book without the pandemic.
Looking to earlier works, think of Testament of Youth, the memoir by Vera Brittan. It is her story as a young woman coming of age. But—and here is the big point—she came of age during World War I and, in that horrible conflagration, she lost her brother, her fiancé, and myriad close friends. That war shaped her life. It made her a pacifist. It made her a writer. The story she had to tell was inextricable from the horrors of war.
Similarly, I can’t imagine not setting Reef Road during the lockdown. Like wartime, the quarantine served to impose strong boundaries around characters and their movements. When Linda’s husband and children are last seen on security footage boarding a plane for Buenos Aires in their facemasks at Miami International, Linda is unable to follow them because of border closures. This sets up an interesting situation for our protagonist and one that would be harder to achieve in a normally functioning world. I would say that while Reef Road is not about the Covid lockdown, it certainly exists within its confines.
Q: Caring for her mother and in a struggling marriage with two kids when we meet her, Linda seems normal enough, yet her life, once it is revealed to us, is full of transgressions and wrong doing. This gradual reveal for each character is expertly done and compelling to read! Is there a hero in Reef Road? Do you think all the characters are manipulative? Are Linda and Miguel’s children innocent or do you think the pattern of disfunction will continue?
A: I like to call my novels Identity Thrillers. They are puzzles of identity in which the reader receives bits of information in a breadcrumb trail about a character’s secrets. We all have secrets but most of ours are quite benign. In literature—as in cinema—we get to explore a world of secrets that often have deeper roots and darker consequences.
Reef Road exists on the knife-edge of true crime and noir. I was heavily influenced by the film Body Heat, in writing the chapters of The Wife. If you remember that movie (and if not, you should stream it now!) it is a fantastic film noir starring Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. It is set in Lantana, FL, not far from Palm Beach. It is hot and sweaty and dark and everyone is manipulative and no one is who he or she seems. It is the quintessential noir and reflects the tone I wanted for much of Reef Road.
And, yes, the children are completely innocent. They are the heroes. But can they escape? That is the question the book poses.
Q: Do you think trauma and criminal behavior can be passed down through generations?
A: I have recently finished a non-fiction book called, It Didn’t Start With You, by Mark Wolynn and it has both reinforced and completely expanded my understanding of generational trauma. Like most people, I understood the rudimentary idea: a child of a violent parent might tend toward violence and a child of an alcoholic might have either alcoholism or some type of co-dependent issues as an adult.
What I did not understand is the concept that we actually are changed at a genetic level by traumas that happened to our grandparents! The book begins by detailing experiments with mice wherein they are exposed to a particular smell which is then followed by an electric shock. Two generations later, the grandchildren of those mice have reactions of stress and anxiety when exposed to that same smell. This is rather extraordinary. Or, it turns out, it is more ordinary than we knew.
Q: The writer gets creepier as the story unfolds and I really love her voice of a woman unhinged. What was it like to get into her head?
A: Haha! You would be amazed at how easy it is for me to slip into an unhinged head space! Seriously though, this is where I draw upon my acting experience. As an actor, you are called upon to play all sorts of parts. So, let’s say you have to play a murderer. Odds are you haven’t murdered anyone. But you can certainly dig into the basic human feelings—jealousy, betrayal, lust, greed, etc.—that you think might have inspired that character to murder someone. Take that feeling you have felt and dig in deeply and build it up. The same holds true for a writer creating characters. That said, there is definitely a detox period each day that is required to shake those characters off!
Q: Do you include the foreshadowing and the clues as you write or do you go back and add them in after?
A: Generally speaking, I add foreshadowing as I go along. But I certainly edit and edit and edit and there are things that come to me later. I believe that there is a certain amount of time required to write a book that cannot be rushed. Ideas—including clever ways to foreshadow—often come to me when I am not writing but doing something else like sleeping or driving a car!
Q: Did you know the ending before starting the book?
A: No. The ending comes to me as I travel the path with the characters.
Q: Did you decide to add the epilogue after you finished writing or was it always part of the plan to wrap up loose ends?
A: The epilogue came much later in the process.
Q: How did you choose the elements and details of the mystery; the washed up severed hand on the beach, the mysterious brother, the little boat with the hidden key, the Bolivian coin?
A: These are all the delicious details that come when you sit in that chair and start to write. I definitely spend time researching items such as what an actual coin from Bolivia looks like. But the way it ended up in the story was through the process of writing and thinking and dreaming.
Q: How long did it take to write this book and is there anything you cut out during revisions you wish was still in?
A: I began the research for Reef Road in March of 2020, just as the quarantine was descending. I had a first draft in about a year, which is normal for me, and then I spent another year deeply revising. The final leg of the journey is all the business of publishing a book such as cover design, getting blurbs from other authors, doing interviews, etc. And maybe some final revisions!
The things that were cut out were long scenes that developed certain stories—like the story Linda tells Miguel when she comes home late one night and is clearly lying about where she has been. But it went too far down a rabbit hole and detracted from the forward motion of the plot.
Q: (The more I think about each character, the more I realize how deliciously dysfunctional, corrupt, and/or inappropriate each one is!) Who was your favorite character to write and how do you get to know each one before and during the writing process?
A: First of all, your first statement delights me. These characters are definitely careening out of control in the course of Reef Road and I am so please that it tickles you as much as it does me. It is great fun to write a character in crisis and handling it badly. And, as you know, the crises in this story come from without and from within. It would be very hard for me to choose a favorite between The Writer and The Wife. I adored delving into The Writer’s sardonic perspective and cool intellect. I also adored jumping into Linda’s more hot-blooded nature. One of my favorite lines to write was when The Writer says about The Wife, “she picks up men as easily as I pick up a donut.” I also loved writing the scene when Linda really loses it with The Writer. These two women are formidable adversaries!
Q: If Reef Road becomes a movie or a miniseries (it would be incredible), who would you like to see cast as Linda, Miguel, The Writer and Michael?
A: These parts would be so much fun to cast! I have had Cate Blanchett in mind for The Writer. Because I loved her in the film, Notes On A Scandal, which explores a similar set up of an older and a younger female protagonist (played by Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, respectively) engaged in an equally weird psychological game, I would love to see Ms. Blanchett in the older role in Reef Road.
Linda would need to be played by one of the great actresses in her age range. Because I loved The Fablemans so much—and her role in it—I find myself longing for Michelle Williams.
Miguel—well, you wouldn’t go wrong with Javier Bardem!
For the role of Michael Collins, I think Michael Fassbender has the right edge.
Q: What have you read that you recommend?
A: Tying in with Reef Road’s theme of the burdens we carry from the past, I would strongly recommend the non-fiction book I mentioned earlier, It Didn’t Start With You, by Mark Wolynn, It is also about inherited generational trauma and absolutely blew my mind with its strong evidence of a genetic component in it. In fiction, I have recently loved Flight by Lynne Steger Strong, and the way she deeply explores family after the death of a matriarch, and, also as mentioned, Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout, which is set in the same Covid lockdown period as Reef Road.
Q: Do you have anything else in the works and how can we keep up with all you do?
A: In recent months, I received a tantalizing email from a man who recounted shared stories from our shared past. He said he had been my “best boy” in a movie I did. If you are not in the movie business, you may not know that the “best boy” is the head electrician on a film set. While I remembered some of the things he referenced, I didn’t actually remember those experiences with him. And it got me thinking—and writing—about a woman with a flawed memory who is approached by someone who may or may not be telling the truth. I am calling it Best Boy. More to come.
Please do follow me on Instagram: @deborahgoodrichroyceofficial and check out my website: www.deborahgoodrichroyce.com to keep up with my Friday Reads book recommendations and events, particularly those I host with other authors at the Ocean House Hotel in Watch Hill, RI.
Listen to The Lisa Wexler Show podcast with Deborah Goodrich Royce
About Deborah Goodrich Royce
Deborah Goodrich Royce’s literary thrillers examine puzzles of identity. Finding Mrs. Ford and Ruby Falls will be joined by Reef Road in January 2023.
Deborah began her career as an actress, starring as Silver Kane, sister of the legendary Erica Kane (played by Susan Lucci) on the ABC soap, All My Children. She went on to star in feature films such as April Fool’s Day and Just One of the Guys, TV movies such as Return to Peyton Place and The Deliberate Stranger, and series such as Beverly Hills 90210 and 21 Jump Street.
After the birth of her daughters, she moved with her family to Paris and worked as a reader for le Studio Canal Plus. In the 1990’s, Deborah was the story editor at Miramax Films in New York. There, she oversaw readers, manuscript acquisitions, and script development, editing such notable screenplays as Emma by Doug McGrath, and early versions of Chicago and A Wrinkle in Time.
With writing partner, Mitch Giannunzio, Deborah won a grant from the Massachusetts Arts Council in 2002 to develop and workshop their original screenplay, Susan Taft Has Run Amok.
With her husband, noted small-cap investor, Chuck Royce, Deborah restored the 1939 Avon Theatre in Stamford, CT. Under her leadership, the Avon hosts an ongoing series of film luminaries, most recently, Mira Nair, Richard Gere and Chloe Sevigny. The late Gene Wilder, a longstanding advisory board member of the Avon, was an early advocate for Deborah’s writing.
Deborah and Chuck have restored several hotels (Ocean House, Deer Mountain Inn, Weekapaug Inn, and The Margin Street Inn), a bookstore (The Savoy in Westerly, RI), and numerous other Main Street buildings in Westerly, RI and Tannersville, NY.
Deborah serves on the governing boards of the New York Botanical Garden, the Greenwich Historical Society, and the PRASAD Project and the advisory boards of the American Film Institute, the Greenwich International Film Festival, the Preservation Society of Newport County, and the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach. She is a former trustee of the YWCA of Greenwich and the Garden Conservancy.
For more information and to keep up with Deborah Royce, visit her website!