Written by Catherine Steadman — She’s best known as Mabel Lane Fox in the Downton Abbey TV series, but Catherine Steadman’s debut novel couldn’t be further from the life and times of Lord Grantham’s fictional Yorkshire estate.
It opens slap bang in the present, in some unidentified woods, where Erin is digging a grave. It’s bloody hard work and to keep her mind off her aching muscles, she lets her mind run riot, sharing her thoughts with us. It’s clear she’s a level headed sort, someone who likes to know the nitty gritty of whatever she undertakes, which is why the chapter is littered with facts and figures about grave digging. Yes, grave digging – and very interesting they are too.
Who is Erin burying? The answer to that is a shocker. Just six pages in and we’re already sent reeling. It’s an unusual, horrifying opening gambit and sets us up nicely for what’s to follow.
The story then skips back three months, to happier times for documentary maker Erin. She is in London, putting together the last-minute details of her dream wedding to the love of her life, city financier Mark, and also in the planning stage of her first solo film project. Life is great and things couldn’t be better. But guess what? That pretty bubble of joy is about to burst, big style.
Mark loses his job and suddenly the couple have to cut back on their lavish arrangements for the Big Day. Although her fiancé is beginning to fall apart at the seams, Erin doesn’t notice it. She’s too tied up in the final details of her documentary, which will focus on three long-term prisoners who are about to be freed from jail. Two are women, and while Erin warms to Alexa, young arsonist Holli is easier to relate to. Subject number three, though, could prove most problematic. Eddie Bishop is a bona fide East End gangster and Erin is surprised he’ll even consider being a part of her film. But he seems to be on board and the interactions between Eddie and Erin are among the most entertaining and intriguing in this book.
The one thing the couple is not prepared to sacrifice is their dream honeymoon in Bora Bora. The island is so vividly brought to life you’ll be reaching for the suncream and the scenes set in this idyllic paradise are both stunningly beautiful and deeply disturbing. Mark is an experienced diver and convinces his reluctant new bride to scuba dive to a wreck with him. It’s a trip that changes their lives forever when they find something in the water. What they’ve found is about to give them all end of trouble. Suddenly the pair are in way too deep, and every decision they take from now on pulls them further and further away from the straight and narrow…
Erin is the main culprit, and her self-centredness can grate at times. The woman we see expertly directing her documentary scenes appears very different to the one who acts first, and thinks later in her personal life. She professes to loving her new husband, but keeps rushing in without consulting Mark, and putting them both into danger in the process. As the relationship begins to fray, it is difficult to see how there can be any semblance of a happy ending.
Something in the Water has already been snapped up by Reese Witherspoon’s production company and with its masterfully rendered settings and utterly believable if sometimes downright annoying characters it is easy to see why it will make a great subject for a film. Steadman may be new to this crime writing lark, but she has an easygoing and engaging writing style and sly line in unexpected plot twists. More please!
Simon & Schuster
CFL Rating: 4 Stars