It’s Sea Week – yes, we do this every year – and it made me think about some of the books I’ve enjoyed that are set on or near the sea. Here’s a small sampling:
C S Forester’s Hornblower books
When you start with Mr Midshipman Hornblower, the first book in the series, it’s hard to stop until you’ve read a good half-dozen of the novels. Maybe it’s because some of my ancestors were in the Navy at a similar time, (that is, the Napoleonic Wars and decades following), but I find Foresters’ accounts of sea battles and his main character’s tactical ingenuity really exciting. Forester also develops Hornblower’s character as a man, a husband, lover and father, revealing the difficulties of being away at sea for years at a time. Apparently the real-life figure of Thomas Cochrane (later Lord Dundonald) inspired the Hornblower character.
Natural Flights of the Human Mind by Clare Morrall
Morrall’s two misfit main characters in this book are oddly appealing. Peter Straker lives in a disused lighthouse, burdened by the guilt he bears for causing the deaths of 78 people around twenty-five years ago. Peter shuns all human interaction until he meets Doody who has inherited a run-down cottage in the Devon village nearby. Doody is also damaged – her childhood marked by tragedy and a serious lack of love, on top of which her husband walked out on her, also twenty-five years ago. Since then she’s eked out a living as a school caretaker. Morrall manages a clever balancing act between the potentially leaden themes of loss, guilt and family dysfunction and wryly observed, quirky characters to produce a plot that slowly builds tension and drama towards a surprising and satisfying ending.
The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home
This is the first in a series of crime fiction about oceanographer, Cal McGill who solves mysteries by examining ocean currents, on commission for the police sometimes, or not. He often gets on the wrong side of the law for his environmental stances and has some baggage from the past regarding an ex-wife, so he’s a complex and at times difficult personality. I love the way the stories bring in elements of the past with present-day crime and the minor characters are well-drawn too. In this book, we have a recent crime concerning young girls smuggled from India for a prostitution ring. Cal also learns what really happened to his grandfather during the war. The setting of coastal Scotland is, for this reader, a big plus.
The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths
Another series first, this one features forensic archaeologist, Ruth Galloway, and her problematic relationship with policeman, DCI Harry Nelson. Set around the Norfolk coast, the tidal nature of the saltmarsh near Ruth’s isolated home plays an important part in this story about the discovery of a skeleton of a young girl. Griffiths brings in the ancient history of the area – ‘land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants – not quite earth, not quite sea’. The series is at number 10 now – the latest book, The Stone Circle, is out soon – and I’ve read them all, I like them so much. While the setting is fascinating, the winning factor for me is the character of Ruth – who is down to earth in more ways than one – and the lively style of the writing.
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
This psychological thriller strands its protagonist Lo Blacklock on a small luxury cruise liner touring the Baltic Sea. Lo is a travel writer, not particularly well-off so this should be bliss. And it would be if she hadn’t witnessed what looks like a murder in the cabin next door. When the crew all insist no one was using the cabin, and that Lo may have had a little too much to drink, which is another of Lo’s problems, it is all down to Lo to solve the crime. There’s plenty of thrills in this novel which covers some new territory in the genre. The cruise ship setting adds to the interest, and the tension never lets up. You just have to keep reading to the end, which has plenty of surprises.