Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review of The Woman Who Walked into the Sea by Mark Douglas-Home (Sandstone Press, 2013)

When just a few hours old Anna Wells was dropped at a hospital in Inverness, anonymous except for a broach left with her.  Twenty six years later, events in the coastal village she was born in lead to her being informed as to the identity of her mother.  Leaving her young daughter with a friend she travels to Poltown to discover why she was abandoned, lodging in her mother’s old house.  What she discovers is that the night she was born her mother walked into the sea, her hat and bag being found in the next bay.  As Anna comes to terms with her history and tries to discover the reasons for her mother’s apparent suicide, her presence unsettles a community that is already divided between those wanting the place to stay as it is and those who favour allowing a large electricity company to build an offshore windfarm and onshore facility.  She’s also being used as a pawn in a bitter personal rivalry.  Coming to her aid is Cal McGill, a young oceanographer who runs a detective agency tracing how bodies and objects move with the wind and currents, who is in Poltown to talk to a local beachcomber about his finds.  As Anna pushes on with her quest, those with secrets to hide move against her.

The first Cal McGill book, The Sea Detective, was one of my reads of the year so far.  I therefore had high expectations for The Woman Who Walked into the Sea.  In many ways it is quite a different kind of book.  The pace is much slower, the narrative is dominated by long descriptive passages that, for my tastes, are too much show and not enough tell, and nearly the entire story takes place in and around one village.  Whereas the first book had a set of intersecting storylines and a relatively large cast of characters and rivalries, this book is more circumscribed and the focus is for the most part follows Anna, the daughter of the woman who walked into the sea, rather than Cal.  In fact, there is very little sea detection in the story.  Given the amount of work that Douglas-Home does in providing the back story to the tale and setting up the end play to the book it concludes quite quickly and linearly, reliant on a couple of coincidences and underplays the possibilities for dramatic tension or twists and turns.  Personally, I would like the next book in the series to focus more on Cal McGill and his sea detection and to have the same faster-paced storytelling style as the first book.  Overall, a solid, okay read, but in my view not in the same class as the excellent first book in the series.

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Sorry to hear this wasn't at the top of your list the way the first one was. Still, it does sound like a solid read, and I'll probably give it a go.