Mark Douglas-Home is a former journalist who, following a distinguished career, has now switched to writing crime novels. The Woman who Walked into the Sea is his second novel and also features the eponymous Sea Detective, Cal McGill, of his first book. Cal is an oceanographer who uses his knowledge of the tides and currents to locate objects, including bodies, lost or missing at sea.
The story is set in north-west Scotland near Ullapool in the fictional coastal village of Poltown and opens with a memorial service for Diana, a widow whose husband William Ritchie QC owned the local Big House. Her former housekeeper, Mrs. Anderson, attends the service and chooses to seat herself in a fairly prominent pew feeling quite certain that she will be ushered to the top pew by in view of herdevoted service to the family and to Diana in particular. However, far from being exalted, she is very publicly and brusquely asked to move to the back of the church by Diana's son-in-law. Now we have a woman with a mission and in her desire for revenge she sets in train a chain of events that she knows will reverberate on Diana's daughter and son-in-law.
Twenty six years ago on the local beach a young woman walked into the sea and disappeared; her body was never retrieved. Today Violet Wells lives with her four year-old daughter in a Glasgow tenement flat and she is aware she was abandoned on the steps of a hospital as a baby. During a visit from a social worker she is handed an anonymous letter naming her birth mother and also the beach where her mother had walked into the sea after giving birth to Violet. She immediately off for Poltown leaving her daughter in the care of her best friend.
This is a classic detective story reminiscent of PD James or Ruth Rendell and it is so refreshing to find such a well-written crime novel among the infestation of badly written, inane and violent thrillers flooding the market today. It is not without significance that Douglas Homes had a career as a very distinguished journalist since this is reflected in his clear straightforward prose. I loved the remote Scottish Island setting and the story's rather old-fashioned feel. The plot is interesting but it is the quality of the writing that earned the fourth star in my case. I look forward to Cal McGill's next outing which I believe is in the pipeline.
I now tend to eschew all new Gone Girl and Girl on a Train wannabees and find the Penguin logo most reassuring.