As thrillers go, Coffin Corner by Jackie Elliott is a slow burner, but eminently readable, and it delivers the thrills in the end.
Andrea “Andi” Silvers is in disgrace. Once a rising star reporter, she has been dumped by her married lover and by the paper they both worked at.
Andi finds a job in a small ailing local paper, the Gazette, in the tiny fishing village of Coffin Cove.
Drinking her sorrows away, she is barely holding it together. Jim, her new employer, is already having doubts about his latest hire.
Then two dead sea lions wash up on the shore. Local fishermen get the blame. Until a dead body turns up.
The deeper Andi digs the more dirt she finds.
Could two dead seals really be linked to a cold case? What happened to the fifteen-year-old girl who was killed twenty years ago? And where does the new murder fit in?
We meet the protagonist, Andrea “Andi” Silvers, in the third chapter of the novel. Silvers, once up and coming major market investigative journalist, has out of desperation taken a job as a reporter at a small local and failing newspaper in the mythical backwater fishing village of Coffin Cove. Once a thriving center of the Canadian logging and fishing industries, Coffin Cove has also fallen on hard times. Silvers spends her early days in the town trying to drown with drink the memories of a disastrous affair with a married man, her former boss, and the cause of her professional demise, a story she had written where she failed to corroborate a source who turned out bogus. After the prominent businessman, maligned in the article based on the phony tip, threatened to sue, Silvers’ paper summarily fired her.
Andrea Silvers is a likeable character whose sad backstory immediately evokes the readers’ sympathy. Likewise, we applaud when she stops feeling sorry for herself and takes her new job seriously once a murder occurs. But I would have liked to have seen Silvers appear earlier in the story. The reason she didn’t is one nuance of the book I didn’t care for much.
The novel begins with a prologue concerning a murder that occurred years before the story takes place. That’s fine since many contemporary thriller writers use the device to set the hook. But then the first chapter is essentially a second prologue with details of an unidentified shadowy figure stealing a rifle. And in the second chapter, the author introduces a supporting character, albeit it an important character to the plot, before we meet the protagonist.
While I understand the author uses the prologue and first two chapters to provide readers with important backstory information, there are much more effective ways of accomplishing that. The effect was a painfully slow start after the promise offered by the prologue that made the novel difficult to get into. By the time I reached chapter three, I didn’t even find the introduction of the main character that compelling. Because of the initial drag placed on the story, things seemed to move forward at nearly a glacial pace until almost the mid-point of the book.
Elliott employs the third person omniscient point of view in the novel, with the narrator telling the story from multiple characters’ perspectives. Third person omniscient is difficult to carry off well, and I found it here a bit jarring. Again, I understand it was used to communicate important information to the reader, but this too moved the story forward at a very slow pace. Bluntly put, it was a bit of a slog to get through the first half of the novel.
Finally, in the second half of the book, the author hit her stride. There is more focus given to Andrea Silvers’ perspective, and the pace picks up substantially. Three-quarters of the way through, I was feeling pleased I had persevered rather than giving up on the book in the early chapters. And Elliott rewards the reader with a twisty surprise at the satisfying conclusion.
Coffin Corner is a novel suspense / thriller fans will enjoy who are patient enough to forgive the slow start and are unperturbed by the multiple character perspectives. Just be mindful this one is a slow burn that takes a while to get up to true thriller pace. But the author rewards perseverance with excellent storytelling in the second half.
I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.