Freddy left her childhood home in Newhaven twenty-two years ago and swore never to return. But now her parents are dead, and she’s back in her hometown to help her brothers manage the family fishmonger. Nothing here has changed: the stink of fish coming up from the marshes; the shopping trolleys half-buried by muddy tides; the neighbours sniffing for a new piece of gossip.
It’s not what Freddy would have chosen, but at least while she’s here she’ll get to see her childhood best friends, Toni and Pauline. At school, the three of them were inseparable. The teachers called them the Mermaids for their obsession with the sea, and with each other.
Then Pauline goes missing, and Freddy must decide. Go back to her new life, or stay and find her friend?
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This atmospheric story is a fusion of murder mystery, coming of age friendships and noir crime. Set in coastal Newhaven the setting adds to the story’s sense of mystery. Freddy and her two friends were inseparable as youngsters, experimenting with life and love.
Told from three points of view there are many suspects in the murder mystery. The plot is cleverly constructed and until the end conceals as much as it reveals. The story explores relatable contemporary issues such as abuse and bullying.
The suspense builds slowly in the detailed plot and nothing is certain until the end.
An absorbing believable story.
Guest Post – Death of a Mermaid – Lesley Thomson – Researching fact for fiction
Death of a Mermaid, is a murder mystery set in Newhaven, a port town in East Sussex. This took me into the world of trawlers, fish, Catholicism and a small animal hotel. When I had the idea, I knew little if nothing about any of these subjects.
I do a lot of research for my novels. Some of this is on the internet and I read books and articles. I talk with people who do the jobs I plan for my characters. For the sake of Jack Harmon, train driver in The Detective’s Daughter series, I rode in the cab of a London Underground train. Stella Darnell’s detective dad showed his little girl the horses at Hammersmith Police Stables. When I went, I mistook a row of loudhailers on a wall for hairdryers. All grist to the mill. In Kew Garden’s Herbarium are plant specimens – thrillingly called ‘dead materials’ – discovered by Charles Darwin. Had I stayed longer in the vast Victorian chamber with spiral staircases the naphthalene that nineteenth century botanists used to preserve specimens and in which they were still steeped, would have killed me. Great stuff.
For all this only a tenth of what I learn reaches the story.
On a hot spring day I visited a pets’ hotel called Creature Comforts. Many guests were out of their hutches basking in wire runs on the hotel’s lawn. There was Mr Bun the white rabbit, a lion-headed rabbit appropriately named Simba and regular residents the guinea pigs, Minty and Angelica. George, an ancient parrot preened himself on his perch. Intermittently he embarked on spelling out his name, always stopping ‘r’ before discriminately squawking, ‘I love you.’
Jane the proprietor explained the hotel’s daily doings. On her guests’ behalf, she pens the owners postcards filled with news of how their creatures pass the time. The pets too are on their holidays. Jane hosts a variety of small animals and birds including hamsters – Dougal rolled past in a Perspex ball – cockatiels and budgies. Degus, Jane warned (Tinkerbell and Nibbles being examples) are tricky. At mealtimes, sniffing pastures new, they can shoot from their cages and whizzing out at top speed are nearly impossible to retrieve. As I scribbled in my notebook, I concocted the scene. An escaped degu – in Death of a Mermaid I call him Roddy – is the stuff of drama. As Jane explained the ins and outs of the hotel, I knew I had struck gold.
I was invited to Waitrose at dawn one morning. In my novel 40-year-old Freddie Power manages the fish counter in the supermarket’s Liverpool branch. In overalls and hairnet, I watched Steve the manager shovel ice onto a display shelf. With an artist’s flair, species by species, he arranged the sea’s produce, bass, salmon, prawns, scallops, cod. All garnished with lemons, parsley and samphire. Yesterday’s unsold fish goes at the front. Good detail. Freddy will do that.
In Death of a Mermaid Freddy, Toni and Mags had met at convent school in Newhaven during the eighties. The actual convent was evacuated to Hampshire in the second-world war after it was bombed by the Germans. In reality, it never returned to the town. In my novel, it’s still there. The girls call themselves the Mermaids after Disney’s The Little Mermaid. In service to my novel, I watched the film several times. Sebastian the Crab singing Under the Sea to Ariel remains an exasperating earworm!
My research is not only to gather facts. The inspiration and energy I get from conversations, reading, ‘field trips’ to locations like Newhaven and it’s beaches fuel my writing as I draft and redraft the novel.
As I said, not all I discover goes into the novel. To reach the page, a fact must contribute to the plot. I’m afraid that George the parrot ended up on the cutting room floor.
Lesley Thomson grew up in west London. Her first novel, A Kind of Vanishing, won the People’s Book Prize in 2010. Her second novel, The Detective’s Daughter, was a number 1 bestseller and sold over 500,000 copies.