Counterpoint, 2015, 358 pp, HC, $25.00
The existence of the Farallon Islands on the north coast of California had slipped my awareness even though I spent a couple of years in that vicinity, a little further north on Victoria Island. No comparison exists, of course, except the shared presence of the Pacific Ocean on all sides. That presence dominates the general atmosphere of place as well as the attitudes of all island dwellers...the smaller the land mass, the greater the presence of water.
The setting increases the intensity of everything about this novel. Small, remote, constantly windblown, and surrounded by the churning North Pacific, there is a lighthouse and a group of quirky marine scientists studying the sharks and whale pods who inhabit the surrounding waters. The latest arrival, Miranda, is a young nature photographer, who has received a one year residency to document the local watery denizens as well as the huge sea bird population.
For me, Miranda's work and observations, alone, would make a terrific book, assuming they are based on fact, but that would be a different book. Her sexual assault and a subsequent death of one of the scientists turns another page and certainly introduces an air of menace and brooding threat. The story is no longer a nature idol but a crime novel. Even so, it would seem that these nasty deeds would be easily exposed and solved in such a small community on such a small chunk of land...but author Geni has other ideas...and they are intriguing.
I didn't know, for instance that the nickname for these isolated beauties is the "Islands of the Dead" by Native Americans living in the Bay area. Apparently, the spirits of the departed were thought to inhabit them. That belief alone prevented the native people from exploring this territory. It may also have inspired the author to set her "who-dun-it" there.
The most striking aspect of this novel may be the prose itself. It reels out the plot with such a remarkably unflappable assurance and sense of inevitability that the story arrives in the reader's brain almost as if it were a personal memory. If the book had not given me so much pleasure on many of verbal and visual levels, I'd be jealous.