Written by Mark Douglas-Home — It’s probably a bit easier for a journalist to launch a career in crime fiction. After all, they’ll be familiar with the editing process and are used to seeing their words cut, chopped, changed and rewritten. Having said that, with thousands of hopeful authors releasing books digitally, it’s an incredibly competitive genre. Former Herald in Scotland editor Mark Douglas-Home has done well in getting his Sea Detective mysteries off the ground, and in September 2011 we reviewed his debut novel. Now, his maritime sleuth Cal McGill is back in The Woman Who Walked into the Sea, and what a refreshingly modern hero he is.
McGill is an oceanographer, but is fast garnering a reputation for solving crimes by tracking human bodies and other seaborne objects. Trouble is, the more successful he is, the less he enjoys the work. Yes, he might find a body, but are the grieving family prepared for the sight of a bloated, damaged version of the person they have lost? In a bid to get away from his worries, McGill travels to a remote part of North West Scotland. It is here that he meets Violet Wells.
Violet is a single mum from Glasgow, and she is in Poltown on the trail of a mother she has never known. Abandoned on the steps of a hospital just a few hours after she was born, Violet’s only link to her parentage is a brooch found with her in the shape of a little bunch of violets, which prompted the nurses to give her the name. Now, out of the blue, she has received an anonymous letter revealing that her biological mother apparently drowned herself 26 years ago in the sea off Poltown. She left behind a letter to the married man who made her pregnant, and her hat and handbag, which washed up on a nearby shoreline. Soon, McGill is drawn into Violet’s search for the truth, but it is an uphill struggle in a community determined to keep its secrets well hidden.
We readers know that the mysterious letter writer is Mary Anderson, the elderly, embittered former housekeeper who worked for the closest thing the area has to landed gentry. It just so happens that the head of this family is the man who made Violet’s mother pregnant. Mary Anderson knows exactly what transpired all those years ago and, as we all know, revenge is a dish best served cold.
She is a wonderfully conceived character and behind the immaculate net curtains and home baked cakes she is a poisonous old busybody worthy of any Agatha Christie novel. Cal McGill is a triumph too. The author has shown great restraint in creating him. He’s not too handsome, seems to live in his pick-up truck, and uses technology both old and new as he tracks the movements of the seas. In short, he’s a wonderfully unique creation.
As we said, Mark Douglas-Home enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, culminating in the editorship of The Herald in Scotland. He has a concise and easy style, and a knack of keeping the reader at the heart of the action. I soon became enthralled by the story and found myself stopping and starting, just to make the experience last that bit longer. The Woman Who Walked into the Sea is a worthy addition to the Scottish crime fiction fold.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars