Each week, we invite our Crime Cymru authors to tell us a bit about themselves and their writing. This week, Beverley Jones talks about the Oregon road trip that inspired her new psychological thriller The Beach House and the stories she waited years to share.
Location, location, location! Shame about the neighbours…
‘The body isn’t the first thing I see when I step into the kitchen, it’s the knife, the rope and the handcuffs…’
This is certainly not the welcome Grace Jensen expects when she returns to her smart beachfront home in a tiny community in the Pacific Northwest. Everyone in the town assumes Grace has had a visit from a would-be sex attacker, that a ‘home invasion’ has been interrupted. But Grace suspects otherwise, because she knows she left her early life in another small seaside village, in South Wales, for a very good reason. Maybe that reason has finally caught up with her.
This scenario, which became the opening lines of my newest novel, The Beach House had been percolating in my head for years. But author’s minds are a bit like magpies’, hoarding shiny bits and bobs, and it was just one of the elements that needed to come together for this story of secrets and betrayals to take shape.
The first was an investigation I was part of as a Press Officer for South Wales Police, that started out with a missing teenage girl. Working closely with the detectives on the case, suspicions began to turn towards some of her friends. I won’t say much more as, though it was some years ago, the loss never gets any less for the families involved, those on both sides of the eventual court proceedings.
The second was a strange incident involving a masked man, who turned up at the house of an elderly woman only to flee when confronted, in a story that proved truth really is stranger than fiction!
And the third was the legend of the Cap Goch, the grisly, allegedly true tale that scared me as a child, visiting the beaches of Ogmore and the picture-perfect ancient village of Merthyr Mawr in South Wales. It was about an innkeeper called the Red Cap, who, in the nineteenth century, murdered and robbed his weary travellers, the drovers and packmen bound for Bridgend, burying them in the inn’s grounds or dumping their bodies in the river.
Making Like Mikey
It was following a thankfully more cheerful, movie-inspired road trip to the Oregon coast that these three tales wove together. That movie was Steven Spielberg’s 80s’ children’s adventure The Goonies, set in Astoria, northern Oregon, which, as a kid, I played endlessly on wet Sunday afternoons on a video tape recorded from the telly. The film transported an imaginative girl to a place where a geeky, asthmatic kid called Mikey (who I definitely identified with) saves his family home on the ‘Goon docks’ by using his brain and plucky determination, besting pirate booby traps and finding treasure along the way.
In 2019, in the pre-Covid world, my husband and I thought it would be an adventure to go and ‘make like Mikey’ and visit the movie locations, including the Oregon film museum, and former Astoria town jail, where the villainous Fratelli brothers made their escape. We had a lot of fun getting our mugshots done, tracking down the clifftop site of the old restaurant where the gang meets the terrifying but good-hearted Sloth, eating and drinking our weight in seafood, coffee and donuts.
But Goonies nostalgia soon morphed into something else, as we drove through the Oregon wilds. There was something hard-fought and hard-won about the communities clinging to that coast, a beautiful yet brutal forested landscape that dips down to the boiling Pacific, the very edge of the West, before you meet nothing but ocean all the way to Japan. As my protagonist Grace observes, there’s something about that serrated tree and cliff-twisted landscape that has teeth, ready to be bared at the unsuspecting traveller.
Hero or Villain?
Grace, an up-and-coming architect, building, of course, a beach house that she calls her ‘clean slate’ comes home one day to discover that an unexpected visitor has left her those strange gifts – a knife, a rope bound in a familiar red ribbon and a pair of handcuffs.
She’s tried so hard to reinvent herself as the good wife and good mother she wants to believe she is, but have her past choices, and the intersection of intention and consequence, caught up with her? Does someone know her childhood secrets or is her guilty conscience seeing patterns where there are only coincidences?
Grace is a good person, surely, and yet…?
We all weave stories from fact, stories about ourselves and our world, but, as in all good crime novels, we don’t always get to decide the ending or if justice will be served.
If you want to find out how my three disparate tales tie together, and if Grace is the hero or villain of her own story, you’ll have to take an armchair road-trip to the Pacific Northwest to find out.
The Beach House is available in eBook now from LittleBrown and will be out in paperback early in 2022.
You can chat with Bev on Twitter and Instagram @bevjoneswriting