The Body on the Beach
Author: L.J. LaBarthe
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
American release date: March 12, 2013
Format/Genre/Length: E-book/M/M Historical/Mystery/83 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★
In early twentieth century Australia, same-sex relationships are not acceptable, and must remain hidden. William ‘Billy’ Liang is a respectable Adelaide businessman, the head of his family, and the elected spokesman for the Chinese community in Adelaide. He lives with his wife, Hui Zhong, and his lover, Tom Williams. Luckily for Billy, Hui Zhong is accepting of Billy’s relationship with Tom. To the outside world, Tom is Billy’s lawyer and friend, but within the Liang household, he is much more.
When the body of a man washes up on Brighton Beach, a Chinese symbol carved into his torso, Billy and Tom are asked to look into the matter. This has the potential of damaging relations between the Chinese and the Australians, which could spell trouble for the whole community. Billy and Tom take on the challenge of solving the murder and keeping things on an even keel.
This is my first time reading this author, but it won’t be the last. The Body on the Beach, while a mystery, is primarily an historical story—a slice of life look at the social structure in early 1900s Australia, and how two men who love each other are forced to live in order to maintain the illusion in front of society that they are not a couple. The murder is almost secondary besides watching these men interact under the watchful eye of judgmental people.
I loved the loving relationship they have with Billy’s wife, who makes their being together possible by her acceptance of them within the framework of their marriage. More importantly, she considers them her family and loves them both.
Great research has obviously been done on the people and the times and it shows. It was like stepping back in time. I feel sorry for Billy and Tom, that they are forced to hide their love, and will always have to. But I was glad they found a way to be together, which is more than a lot of gay men got to do back then.
If you like history, try this one. The mystery is an added bonus. Mostly, this is a story about the endurance of love.