Location, location, location – why Byron Bay is a perfect crime setting

19 Mar

Setting is important in crime novels. Where would Sherlock Holmes be, without the fog-bound London streets? And wouldn’t Scandi-noir be way too cheerful without those long, cold snowy nights?

Byron Bay might not be quite so noir, but it is still a fascinating location. In my new young adult comedy/crime novel, the beauty and the weirdness of the bay become almost another character in the book.

My protagonist, Olivia Grace, is a Gold Coast girl – They could have scrawled ‘here be dragons’ on the map south of Coolangatta as far as I was concerned.

The first time she went to Byron, she thought it was paradise:

Byron Bay, I soon discovered, was a place to conjure dreams. The sweep of the bay to the base of the mountains; the dolphins leaping from water so clear it was barely there. For us, it was nirvana.

But nirvana had a dark side and things didn’t turn out so well back then. Now, Olivia is back. A freshly hatched Private Investigator, she is hot on the trail of a yoga guru who’s a bit of a creep.

Here’s a whistle-stop tour of the mean streets of Byron as trodden by Olivia in ‘The Girl with the Gold Bikini.’

A Byron Bay Yoga Studio

I read recently that Byron has the highest percentage of yoga instructors outside India. Even if that’s not true, it’s believable. Things heat up for Olivia when she heads out to a fictional yoga studio, Lighthouse Bliss:

I park among the bangalow palms and make my way past the flowering lily pond to reception. The usual South American panpipes are playing and lavender wafts from an aromatherapy burner.

Despite this auspicious welcome, Oliva soon discovers that Byron Bay yoga is not for the fainthearted:

Ajay’s Bikini Beach Body Boot Camp Speed Yoga is powerful stuff. Each two-hour class covers all the moves other yoga teachers would take two weeks to fit in. He learnt this form of yoga from an Indian guru, who granted him sole worldwide rights. I guess gurus aren’t what they used to be.

Unfortunately for Olivia, things only go downhill from here…

Ah, Wategos…

Olivia trails the creepy yoga instructor to a large house with an infinity pool, overlooking Wategos Beach.

As I wind past the cabbage tree palms to Wategos, Abbey’s voice is in my head. ‘How good is this place, Ol? Surf and rainforest. It’s paradise.’ Byron Bay is still paradise. Seems like the whole world thinks so too, though.

Despite the crowds, I still think Wategos is possibly the most beautiful beach in the world. Surfing beneath the lighthouse as the sun sets over the mountains is one of life’s magical moments. Which brings me to…

Surf’s up…

One thing you can almost guarantee about Byron is… crowded surf breaks. Olivia used to surf, but she gave it up after a bad experience. Now she’s trying to get back into it again.

I’d forgotten how cutthroat it is out here. One of the men in the line-up is a kind of man-fish thing. His hands are the size of flippers and he gets onto the waves with about two strokes.

The pack takes my measure quickly. Every time I paddle for a wave someone else comes in from in front or behind or materialises out of nowhere.

Hot tip, Olivia – if you want to avoid the crowds, you need to surf in the dark. Which, in due course, she does. And after a surf, where would you head, but…

The Pass Café

For a post surf snack, this has to be the best spot in town.

A bush turkey roams around underfoot while the magpie cocks its greedy eye at a muffin. In Byron, the rainforest, with all its wildlife, comes right to the beach. Jacq and I claim a table with a view of that show-off, the sea.

Mm, and after a coffee, it’s time to move on to…

Jonson Street

At the risk of sounding like our Prime Minister, how good is Jonson Street? You could watch the world go by all day and never get bored.

The pavement is teeming with the usual frenzied mix: hippies down from the hills, European backpackers, spiky-haired Japanese surfers and gold-sandalled blondes in white linen beach wear.

And when you’re ready for some entertainment, there’s always…

Byron RSL

Several years ago, I did Mandy Nolan’s stand-up comedy course, culminating in a performance at the Byron RSL. The experience was so nerve-wracking, I had to get Olivia to re-live it for me…

Sipping a beer, I perch at a table down the back where I can take photos without being noticed. It’s open mike comedy night and she’s just taken the stage. The crowd is a mixture –young hip surfies mingled with your typical middle-aged RSL drinkers.

And of course, a novel set in Byron Bay wouldn’t be complete without a trip to…

The Lighthouse

A northerly wind whips at our hair and flattens the surf to whitecaps. Panting, we look over the cliff edge and see two dolphins, a mother and a calf, below us. I imagine them as the slackers of the dolphin world. ‘I can’t be bothered catching fish. Let’s get takeaways tonight.’ If I was a dolphin, that would be me.

Now that I’ve scoped the town, I can confirm that Byron Bay is the perfect setting for a fictional crime. Particularly if you’re into that of the yoga and surfing variety.

‘The Girl with the Gold Bikini’ is available from your friendly local bookshop, or: Readings, Booktopia, Amazon Australia, US, UK

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