Sue Lawrence’s Down to the Sea joins the number of novels, at the moment being published, set in dual timelines. Moving between the early 1980s, when the book opens, and the late 1890s, it’s set in the Newhaven area of Edinburgh, by the sea.

From the first words, we’re plunged into Rona and Craig’s new life as they move into their renovation project, a large Victorian house that they’re turning into a luxury care home. The building has a lot of history, reportedly built by a sea captain who never lived there and owned by an affluent couple with a jeweller’s in George street, but Lawrence drops subtle clues to make us aware that the house has probably not been a happy one and that there are secrets in the past. The attic has an ‘ancient’ abandoned pram in it and the dank cellar, as Rona comments, gives her the ‘creeps’; it is ‘fusty’ and ‘dingy’, even with the light on. Still, this is their first proper home and it’s huge so they toast it with champagne and get ready to make their mark.

Set against their story is that of young Jessie Mack, forced into the poor house, after she’s accused by the local fishwives of causing the deaths of their menfolk who are lost at sea during a terrible storm. And here, Lawrence’s writing shines, bringing the landscape and superstitions of the poor in late Victorian Edinburgh to life through her characters and descriptions of place – even the smells, the sea and the stink of fish, are brought vividly to life.

A former Masterchef winner, writer Lawrence has produced a well woven story, the historic passages suitably Gothic in feel, the more contemporary passages tense, with an unpredictability of plot that sustains interest and keeps us on our toes. It’s a pleasurable read, especially if you’ve spent any time in Edinburgh.


Down to the Sea | Sue Lawrence | Contraband | paperback | £8.99 |

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Acknowledgements: This review is published as part of the virtual book tour. Many thanks to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group for organising it and to the publisher for supplying a review copy. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest:The Way of All Flesh, historical crime-fiction at its best’; ‘Fallen Angel – aka where’s Niamh Temple?’; ‘Call Me Star Girl’;Falling from the Floating World’; ‘Blood Orange’; Beton Rouge’; ‘Gallowstree Lane’; The Lost Man’; ‘Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdad’s Sing’; ‘Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s Trap, #ReykjavikNoirTrilogyBook2’; The Story Keeper, Anna Mazzola’s Gothic novel‘; ‘Midland’; ‘A Greater God‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut’; ‘We should all be feminists’; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir’; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”’; ‘Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime’ (book covers we love).


Select Q&As/interviews: ‘Paul E. Hardisty’; ‘Lilja Sigurðardóttir’; ‘Tom Cox’; ‘Vanda Symon; ‘Gunnar Staalesen’; Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist‘; Gina Kirkham;John Fairfax’; ‘Ian Ridley’; ‘David Stuart Davies’.


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.