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Thursday, 7 May 2020

‘Death of a Mermaid’ by Lesley Thomson

Published by Head of Zeus,
7 May 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-78854971-4 (HB)

Death of a Mermaid is a departure for Lesley Thomson in more ways than one.  First, it’s not part of her renowned Detective’s Daughter series; this is a standalone, and doesn’t lend itself to a sequel, much less a series. Next, it doesn’t rely on Thomson’s deep personal knowledge of London’s less familiar byways; it’s set in the port of Newhaven. And last, the protagonists don’t get into people’s homes via a cleaning company; they’re in various arms of the fish industry.

Thomson clearly does her research, though she wears it as lightly as ever. From a supermarket fresh fish counter through a fish wholesale warehouse right back to a Channel fishing trawler, the setting positively sings with realism. In addition, the faded, slightly seedy splendour of Newhaven itself comes over in appropriately muted hues.

The novel evokes an idiosyncratic world: the night-time world of the fisherman, the vast, chilly warehouse where the fish is prepared for sale in the hours before dawn, the small house to which Freddy, the prodigal daughter, returns to take over her mother’s ‘hotel’ for small animals, all counterpointed by a Premier Inn, which couldn’t be more down to earth and generic.

Against such a rich background the plot and characters might seem secondary – but they are far from that. The Mermaids of the title are a group of women whose friendship goes back to their convent schooldays. Freddy, the returning prodigal, harbours a secret, and has always been unsure of herself, especially after her father disowned her. Mags, who shares the secret, has retained her devout Catholicism. Toni, always the one who questioned everything, is a police detective inspector, and in love with one of Freddy’s brothers. And Karen, the first murder victim, was the beauty of the group, but bore an enduring grudge.

And the plot? It’s simple and complex at the same time. Karen has been murdered, and Toni is investigating; she comes to a straightforward conclusion but remains unsure about it. Freddy’s welcome in the wake of her mother’s death has been mixed; her two brothers are now running the family fish business, and only one seems glad to see her. Her close friend Toni is glad to have her around, but Mags is evasive and elusive – and eventually disappears, leaving an enigmatic message. Freddy takes over Karen’s role of mobile fishmonger, and soon discovers that there’s always been more going on than meets the eye, in the family as well as the business...

Lesley Thomson has already shown herself to be the mistress of the life’s-rich-tapestry school of crime writing. In Death of a Mermaid she creates an entire world, presented in enough detail to make it live, and peopled by meticulously drawn characters who stay in the mind. And she doesn’t need to spend a whole series achieving it.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Lesley Thomson was born in 1958 and brought up in Hammersmith, West London, grew up in London. She went to Holland Park Comprehensive and graduated from Brighton University in 1981 and moved to Sydney, Australia. Her novel A Kind of Vanishing won The People's Book Prize in 2010. She is the author of the acclaimed Detective's Daughter series of which there are 7 books. Lesley combines writing with teaching creative writing at West Dean College. She lives in Lewes with her partner. Her latest book is a standalone Death of A Mermaid.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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