The Girl on the Beach by Velda Johnston ~ 1987. This edition: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1987. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-396-09190-3. 189 pages.
My rating: 4/10
A few days ago I reviewed an earlier Velda Johnston book, A Room with Dark Mirrors (1975), which I had mildly enjoyed, enough so that I did a library search for more of Johnston’s titles on the odd chance that I’d find a few. There were two books listed, the one I’m looking at right now – 1987’s The Girl on the Beach – and a 1968 title, House Above Hollywood, which I was unable to locate on the shelf.
I hate to pan any book, because I realize that literary tastes differ wildly and something I find marvelous the next person might shudder at, but, sadly, this second Velda Johnston was deeply disappointing. Formulaic, poorly worded, with nothing like the narrative flow of Dark Mirrors. Dark Mirrors was hardly high literature, but it was an easy, pleasant read. Girl on the Beach was painful to finish. I kept waiting for it to get better, but it quite simply didn’t.
New York advertising artist Kate Killigrew comes to an ocean-side house on a North Carolina island to recover from a car accident and the break-up of her engagement. Her first night there, she wakes in the wee hours and sees a beautiful young woman wandering on the beach and staring at the house; Kate finds this a bit unusual but shrugs it off. The next day a good-looking and obviously troubled young man shows up; he too stares at the house in a strange manner before he realizes Kate has seen him and comes to the door with the explanation that he once lived there.
Turns out that the young woman of the night before is the sister of the murdered wife of the man. The murder took place twelve years earlier, in that very beach house; the man, Martin Donnerly, had been convicted of the crime, and has just finished his prison sentence and returned to the island; the sister has been mentally unbalanced since birth and wanders at will, hence her rambles after midnight.
Of course Kate and Martin fall in love. Due to some inner intuition (wishful thinking?!)Kate insists that Martin could not have murdered Donna Sue (the dead wife); she is sure that Donna Sue’s twin Darleen Mae holds the key to the mystery. Oh yes, there’s a twelve-year-old armoured car robbery mystery intertwined as well, with $50,ooo in missing money floating around somewhere. Might there be a connection? Maybe. Or maybe not. A few red herrings listlessly flop about muddling the plot line.
Various locals with various issues have an abiding interest in the matter; Kate runs afoul of almost all of them, before the “dramatic” conclusion of a violent altercation with the most unexpected of the locals and his predictable “dying breath” confession.
This book is so badly worked out that it seems almost like a parody of the romantic-suspense novel genre. Velda must have been having a bad case of writer’s block when she penned this car wreck. I’ll somewhat forgive her, as I just did the math and realized she was seventy-five when this was published; she might merely have been getting tired of turning these “suspense novels” out at the rate of one (or more) a year since the 1960s, and rattled this one off in a hurry.
I may give Velda Johnston one more chance, if I can easily get my hands on House Above Hollywood on my next library run, otherwise she’s probably going to be crossed off my list of possibles to search out to add to my mom’s reading list. I wouldn’t cross the street for this one, though the earlier novel showed some promise.