Lana Guineay’s first novel Dark wave, Seizure’s 2020 Viva la Novella Award winner, is a deeply physical book, as light and heavy as lying on your back in hot water. The protagonists of Dark wave are pulled by familiar undercurrents, the shadowy ley lines that connect us to lovers, friends, family. It presents itself as a mystery, a story of deception and intrigue – but a wounded heart lies on these pages, a crime that only patience and honesty can solve.
Spending a vacation in a resort comes with the promise of unfettered luxury, “the permissive world of vacations, where everything [feels] possible. ”For photographer Paloma Knightley, whose family owns Songbird Island, the resort world offers her a predictable shell to snuggle into while soothing old wounds and new grief. But when an anonymous letter threatens this stability, asking “a question in a place that had never given anything but its answers,” Paloma turns to her ex-husband, George Green: a man who shunned stability, giving up a career in professional surfing for the one. of a PI.
Dark wave begins bright, reveling in the “slow sensuality of the sun and the sea”. The prose draws you across the page like the tide, fluid sentences that swirl in gentle swirls, until darker shapes blend deeper into the water. As the mystery is introduced early, threatening the island’s haven, the resort’s stasis remains, with scuba diving tours, tequila shots, and soulful beach walks. When the stakes are increased, they are increased rapidly; but even like Dark wave enters the shady waters, Guineay offers brief moments of flair with playful structural choices.
George may be tarnished, but he peels the shell of the detective trope early. He picks up a copy of The great sleep to read on the beach, but he doesn’t have the sarcastic demeanor of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, and he’s not a “blond Satan” like Hammett’s Sam Spade. George’s detective skills are modest; he’s not a ratiocinative detective, no eideker, reading Buddhist literature on chess scoring. While acting on his instinct, George succeeds by being observant, curious, and diligently following leads.
Together, George and Paloma are the beach, that stretch of wild water caressing the lush land, tamed by towel, sunglasses and shade. Paloma comes from a place of stable, reliable luxury. Born into wealth, she cannot help but be shaped by it, shaped by the firm but careful hand of privilege. But George rides the uproar, hampered by privilege. He rejected stability, and so in the past rejected Paloma; when stasis beckons, George pushes against it, wild waves crashing onto the shore.
But Paloma is far from overbearing or controlling. Its stability is the security of an island holding tight against the sea. Paloma’s journey is richer than George’s, from the heartbreak over his father’s death, to his growing anguish, to his closeness to crime. She’s not without a heart or self-doubt – as someone who Google searched for a few spurious symptoms in my day, Paloma’s anxiety issues were ringing true to me. George solves the mystery, but Dark wave No longer belongs to Paloma, and Songbird Island’s betrayals are heavier with it.
Like a mystery Dark wave achieves a lot in its novel length. On the contrary, it ends too soon, hitting the reader too briefly, the storm perhaps setting in a bit too quickly. But Lana Guineay’s promise of future waves is indeed an inviting prospect.
Ryan J Morrison is an emerging author and scholar based in the Land of Kaurna.
Dark wave, by Lana Guineay, is published by Hardie Grant.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.