Poison Bay tells the story of a wilderness hike turned dark and deadly. Eight friends from high school embark on a trek into New Zealand’s most forbidding wilderness. All of the trekkers have something from their past to hide, related to the suicide of another classmate, Liana, in front of them at an end-of-high-school party. Each of them has a guilty conscience from their relationship with Liana.
Their leader, Bryan, now lives in New Zealand, and has become an experienced trekker, orienteer, and survivalist. Bryan talks his classmates into joining him on the trek as a reunion celebration, a way to reconnect and work through Liana’s death. Bryan also tells them their expedition would establish an alternative to the famed Milford Track in Fiordland National Park. To ensure their participation, he pays for all their equipment and food. He then proceeds to take his classmates on a trek through unplotted and challenging wilderness at a brutal pace. By the time the classmates realize the sinister purpose of the trip, they are hopelessly lost and missing emergency communication equipment. Have they learned enough from the trek so far to survive and find their way back?
The author clearly has hiking experience in this park and has done a lot of research to make her story realistic. I felt myself trekking with them. I wish I could feel the characters as well. I wondered what they’d all been doing for the previous ten years (with the exception of Bryon and Callie) and they were rather two-dimensional, without character or dialogue quirks except for Rachel’s diabetes and Sharon’s lack of athleticism. There were long pages of dialogue I was tempted skip. I also could not fathom why the group would surrender themselves so willingly to Bryan’s tyrannical leadership and not question where he was taking them a day or two into the hike.
Offsetting this were the challenges to the group’s finding their way out of the park – food, mudslides, avalanches, snow and torrents of rain. Plus a lot of surprises, all plotted in the darkness of Bryan’s need for personal revenge on each of his classmates. Three characters in the group searching for the trekkers – Sgt. Hubble and his trusted deputy, Tom Ganton, and Rachel’s mother – have more depth, and there are surprises in this side of the story as well.
This is the author’s first mystery novel. Despite its shortcomings, I was compelled to read it to the end, pushed by the scenery, surprises, and tension of the trek.
About the author
Belinda Pollard is an award-winning Australian mystery author and former journalist who loves animals and wilderness. She loves mountain hiking despite bad knees and a fear of heights, and trekked the Milford Track as research for her Poison Bay, which was awarded a Varuna Fellowship and an IPPY Silver Medal. A specialist book editor since 1995 and a publishing consultant since 2001, Belinda has steered upwards of 60 books to publication, initially for traditional publishers, and more recently also for start-ups and self-publishers. Belinda lives in Brisbane, Queensland where she undertakes ball-throwing duties for a red dog named Rufus, and turns on the air-conditioning so she can dream of snow.
You can find her on her two blogs:
Write & Publish Like a Pro at www.smallbluedog.com
Real Life on a Beautiful Planet at www.belindapollard.com.
On Twitter: @Belinda_Pollard
Poison Bay is on Amazon: