This is a super read for anyone who likes adventure stories and thrillers set in foreign lands – unless you happen to be a New Zealander, in which case it’s on your home turf! As the dramatic cover suggests, a focal point in the story is this beautiful but threatening eponymous coastal area at which the first of many twists is revealed.
Ten years after leaving high school, a group of Australian school friends are invited to New Zealand to share a trekking holiday (or tramping, as apparently they call it in NZ). Curious, they all accept the invitation, issued by one of their number who has become a wilderness expert. His thorough preparations lead them to believe that all will be well, and that the trip will be an interesting team-building experience that will renew their friendships now they are adults.
I don’t think I’m spoiling the plot to say that all does not go according to plan! But I’ll leave you to discover for yourself exactly how, when and why, and how the inevitable conflict is resolved. Sufficient to say it’s by turns shocking, satisfying, tragic, and poignant, but ultimately life-affirming, though no-one in the story will ever be quite the same again.
While the trekkers are struggling to escape from the wilderness, another story strand unravels, featuring the mother of one of the schoolfriends – a mother to whom I especially related, not just because I’m closer in age to her than to the travellers, but because her daughter has Type 1 diabetes (as does my own), adding to the challenges of a wilderness adventure. That parallel strand, and the back stories to the adventure, are all presented sensitively, thoughtfully and erring on the side of understatement for maximum impact on the reader.
In summary, Poison Bay is a journey of self-discovery in the same mould as Deliverance (without the duelling banjos) and Lord of the Flies (without the kids) and, on a lighter note, City Slickers (without the laughs), but up there with them in the memorability stakes. I’ll definitely be on the look-out for Belinda Pollard’s next novel.