Book Reading Groups Recommendation: The Woman who Walked into the Sea by Mark Douglas-Home

Cover of The Woman who Walked into the Sea. Book review by Michael JohnstonThe sea exercises a pull on everyone involved in the story of The Woman who Walked into the Sea, the second Sea Detective mystery from Mark Douglas-Home [Dingwall: Sandstone Press, 2013; p/b and e-bk], and rejection, a form of scorn, is another characteristic of the story.  It opens in a church near the imaginary north-west Highland village of Poltown, at a memorial service for Diana, wife of the lawyer for whom Mary Anderson had been housekeeper for 35 years.  Finding the front four rows of pews reserved, she nonetheless presumes she is family enough to sit there only to find herself moved back, not forwards, by the late Diana’s son-in-law.  Humiliated in front of the congregation, she flees the church and falls on the gravel outside.  The opening chapter sets out the stall of scorn and rejections heaped on Mrs Anderson, Diana Ritchie, William Ritchie QC and possibly others.  As one might say, “many women scorned: much fury”. The chapter is loaded with the several hints and nudges that hint at a great deal of trouble to come.  As Mrs Anderson says to herself, “How they’d pay.  Oh, how they’d pay.”  And we still haven’t met Cal McGill, central character in Douglas-Home’s excellent debut novel The Sea Detective.

            The village is divided over the proposal to build a large offshore wind farm and, as is often the case, those who stand to benefit most are most in favour, bar one, for his own private and very personal reasons.  Then there’s the young woman who, 26 years before, had been scorned and abandoned as a new-born baby on the steps of Raigmore Hospital in Inverness arriving to follow up an anonymous message passed on to her.  And Cal McGill, oceanographer and mystery solver, wanting to get away from Edinburgh, feeling the pull of the sea in his head, his heart and his blood, turns up on the beach of South Bay.  “Would he always be alone and in a storm walking some remote coast?”  Well, no.  The young woman is standing on the beach and, with McGill’s help, she is going to unravel the mystery.

            Mark Douglas-Home successfully inhabits all the characters he creates, breathing life into them and individuality, even those who are already dead and buried.  He spins a tale with well-crafted skill, knowing just where and when to place new information.  He is a master of the slow reveal and, for that matter, of the open ending with its unspoken and unanswered question.  Maybe, only maybe, it will be answered when the third Sea Detective mystery is published in the autumn of 2014: a date to ring on your calendar.  Since the second in this series is even better than the first, I for one will get my order in early.  Verdict 9 out of 10.

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