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A Stranger on the Beach


A Stranger on the Beach

To the common onlooker, Caroline Stark has it all: she is rich and beautiful, and she and her husband have just conjured the perfect beach house practically out of thin air (and one thick wallet). With their daughter safely installed in her college dorm and their housewarming party rapidly approaching, Caroline is feeling a bit unmoored, but it’s nothing she can’t handle. Sure, Jason has been spending a lot of time at work, and she did catch a stranger staring up at her house from the (public) beach, but once she has her party, everything will settle back to normal. Right?

So begins Michele Campbell’s A STRANGER ON THE BEACH, a novel that truly plays with the reader’s ideas of truth and fiction, and packs in more suspenseful twists and turns than you can even imagine.

Caroline may look like your typical rich trophy wife, but she comes from hardscrabble beginnings, so it is no problem for her to approach the stranger watching her house --- or, as she fears, casing it. The closer she gets to the stranger, however, the easier it is for her to see how strikingly handsome he is. Aidan Callahan, as he introduces himself, is charming and gorgeous, and Caroline decides to ignore the strangeness of his appearance on the beach outside of her home. After all, she has a huge party to plan. It’s only a coincidence that Aidan ends up bartending her party later. Right?

"This book is a mind bender with clues so carefully hidden that you nearly forget there is a single author behind it all.... Campbell is a new author for me, but I can tell she is one I will add to my 'auto-buy' list immediately."

But when Jason says he is not coming to their party, and then shows up with a mysterious Russian woman, Caroline decides that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. By chance, she ends up at the same bar where Aidan is a bartender, and the two share a passionate, carefree night together. Suffice it to say that Aidan is a stranger no more. Not only does Caroline give in to the temptation of Aidan’s youth, she also shares some personal stories and fears about her marriage, her daughter and more. Or does she? Campbell’s book diverges at this point as readers hear from both Caroline and Aidan, who have some very different ideas about their night together and the days following. Where one describes an awkward moment, the other offers a story of romance, and where one expresses fear, the other feels nothing but comfort. But who is who?

As the perfect male lead, Aidan is not only attractive, he is also damaged. He has lived through some trials, has had his heart broken, and is insecure about his standing on the island. But he is also obsessive and proud, and as his version of events starts to sound less and less like Caroline’s, readers will be forced to consider the possibility that he is not at all what he seems. But just when Aidan does something so over the line that you start to fear for Caroline’s life, Caroline says something completely out of left field that makes you wonder who is the hero and who is the villain. Readers will be flipping pages at a rapid pace to determine who is really telling the truth --- and what the other person is hiding.

Campbell plays with her readers’ perceptions brilliantly and gleefully; you are never quite sure who to trust, and you have reasons to want both characters to be honest. Is Aidan viewing Caroline through rose-colored glasses? Is she manipulating him to get revenge on her husband? You’ll have to dig into the pages of this compulsively readable book to find out --- and believe me when I say that the truth will rock you to your core.

As a fan of thrillers, I can easily say that psychological suspense is having a real moment right now, and that means that there are tons of new authors and stories to choose from when it comes to your next suspense read. With so many versions of the same general premise out there, Campbell has done something truly unique by giving you two sides of one story that are so convoluted and layered that it is impossible to parse out the truth. This is peak psychological suspense, and her characters are just flawed enough on their own to let you believe that they are each the star of this wonderful book. I vacillated between fearing for crafty Caroline and wanting to protect addled Aidan so frequently that I nearly gave myself whiplash.

A STRANGER ON THE BEACH is difficult to review without giving away too much. But it is also tricky to review because Campbell makes it all look so easy! This book is a mind bender with clues so carefully hidden that you nearly forget there is a single author behind it all. Every twist is shocking, but they will make you think, I should have known! Campbell is a new author for me, but I can tell she is one I will add to my “auto-buy” list immediately. Those who love “Big Little Lies,” books by Mary Kubica, and a pitch-perfect unreliable narrator (or two!) will love A STRANGER ON THE BEACH.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on July 26, 2019

A Stranger on the Beach
by Michele Campbell