Down to the Sea is set in Newhaven, just a short way along the coast from me. It was once a thriving fishing village and still prides itself on being a very distinctive part of Edinburgh.
There are two tales running in parallel in this book. In the more contemporary part of the story set in the 1980s, Rona and Craig have bought the old run-down Wardie House and set to work converting it into a luxury nursing home. As the residents begin to arrive, they start to learn more about the sad and somewhat mysterious history of the house. Moving back into the late 19th century, young Jessie has been sent to live in Wardie House which at that time was a poorhouse. Born with a distinctive birthmark on her face, she is considered cursed following a tragedy in the fishing community and she is sent away.
This was a book I rattled through quite quickly. With quite short chapters taking you swiftly between the two timelines, it’s easy to just read one more chapter. Both storylines kept my attention though I probably leaned slightly more to the story in the past. Jessie was a great character, feisty and looking out for others. She was rather adventurous too, putting herself in danger on more than one occasion. Sue Lawrence paints a convincing portrait of how awful life in the poorhouse was for the residents especially compared with the very different living conditions of the brother and sister running the institution. In the more recent part of the story, Rona was easy to like as she seemed such a kind and sincere person. The author makes you have suspicions about a few of the other characters and keeps that uncertainty going until near the end of the book. I didn’t find the character of Martha quite so convincing. It was clear that she was up to no good but, without giving anything away, I didn’t feel that her connection to one of the characters was plausible. However, this did not spoil my enjoyment of the rest of the story.
With secret tunnels, hidden treasures, plenty of mystery, drama and danger, Sue Lawrence has written an exciting story where she brings the past and present together in a most enjoyable way.
My thanks to Sara at Saraband Books for sending me a copy of the book. Down to the Sea will be published by Contraband (an imprint of Saraband) on 21st February in paperback and ebook formats. It should be available to buy or order from your usual book retailer or you can order a copy online here: Down to the Sea
From the back of the book
When Rona and Craig buy a large Victorian house up from Edinburgh’s Newhaven district – once teeming with fishing boats – they plan to renovate and set it up as a luxury care home. But something is not quite right: disturbing sounds can be heard when the sea mists swirl; their unpredictable neighbour makes it clear that the house was not always a happy family home. And their ‘characterful’ historic pile has a gloomy cellar harbouring relics from days gone by.
Back in the 1890s, superstitious fishwives blame young Jessie for the deaths of their menfolk in a terrible storm, and she’s forced into the Newhaven Poorhouse. In those less enlightened times, life was often severe, cruel even, and Jessie is entirely at the mercy of a tyrant matron. But one inmate is not all she seems. Jessie begins to pick at the truth, uncovering the secrets and lies that pervade the poorhouse – and which will have profound and dangerous consequences in the future.
About the author
As well as writing two very popular and well-reviewed historical thrillers, The Night He Left and Fields of Blue Flax, Sue Lawrence is one of the UK’s leading cookery writers, with eighteen published cookbooks. Having trained as a journalist in Dundee, she won BBC’s MasterChef in 1991 and became a food writer, regularly contributing to Scotland on Sunday, the Sunday Times and many leading magazines. Born in Dundee and raised in Edinburgh, she now lives near Newhaven in North Edinburgh. She has won two Guild of Food Writers Awards and a Glenfiddich Food and Drink Award.