It’s such a pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for The Cold Cold Sea by Linda Huber, republished on 21st August with a glorious new cover. I’ve wanted to read Linda Huber’s books for such a long time – everything she’s ever written is on my kindle, such was my conviction that I’d enjoy her books, but I’ve never before managed to read and review one on Being Anne. But I was absolutely right – this book was simply wonderful, and gripped me throughout. Another addition to my favourite authors list? Most definitely…!
They stared at each other, and Maggie felt the tightness in her middle expand as it shifted, burning its way up… Painful sobs rose in her throat as Colin, his face expressionless now, reached for his mobile and tapped 999.
When three-year-old Olivia disappears from the beach, a happy family holiday comes to an abrupt end. Maggie is plunged into the darkest nightmare imaginable – what happened to her little girl?
Further along the coast, another mother is having problems too. Jennifer’s daughter Hailey is starting school, and it should be such a happy time, but the child is increasingly moody and silent. Family life has never seemed so awkward, and Jennifer struggles to maintain control.
The tide ebbs and flows, and summer dies, but there is no comfort for Maggie, alone now at the cottage, or for Jennifer, still swamped by doubts.
‘A psychologically astute, edge-of-the-seat story.’ Hilary Johnson
‘Unsettling and disturbing… I couldn’t put it down.’ Rebecca Muddiman
‘Breathtaking and utterly compelling.’ Debi Alper
I read very few thrillers these days – and I must confess that it’s largely because I find them fiendishly difficult to review without wanting to discuss the plot and spoil the book for other readers. The “missing child” theme also seemed to crop up a little too often, and I was beginning to find the stories a little “samey”. But my goodness, this was such a different take on the story – and I loved every moment.
The characters are just superb. Maggie’s emotional response to her loss, her feelings of guilt, the impact on her life and relationships, are immensely powerful – and so very real that I could feel her agony. The emotional complexity and mental fragility of Jennifer are superbly handled too – and the impact on daughter Hayley totally heartbreaking, as things go from bad to worse. The whole story is absolutely compelling, dark and disturbing – as a reader, I understood what was happening fairly early on, but couldn’t see how things were ever going to be resolved. There are repeated moments when you think it will turn around – and then new anguish when it doesn’t, and a happy ending seems further away than ever.
The writing is taut and tension-filled – this was a book I carried with me from room to room, desperate to know how things worked out – and the pacing and timing of its twists and turns quite perfectly done. It plays with your emotions too – painful to read at times, moving you to tears, making you ache inside. The way it offered hope, and then took it away again… just superb. And I loved the settings, so vividly drawn – the Cornish beach of sandcastles and rock pools turning into a scene of desolation and painful memories, the village of Polpayne and its little school. And I must particularly mention further that school setting – the way the children became little individuals, small details bringing them to life, was really excellent, and I really liked the occasional focus on the lives of the teachers. And I know we’re talking characters again, but I also really liked the portrayal of the police supporting Maggie through her loss.
This book really is the most wonderful story telling – and, now that I know what I’ve been missing, I’m cursing myself that it’s taken me so long to pick up one of the author’s books. Never mind – I have plenty more waiting…
I’m delighted to welcome Linda Huber as my guest today, to tell us more about the book’s location…
Choosing a place to set your book can be tricky. It has to be a location that works for the plot, somewhere believable for the characters to move around in. For The Cold Cold Sea, I needed a place with a beach, somewhere a family would realistically go on a summer holiday. I grew up in Scotland, spending all my teenage summers on an island where beautiful beaches abound, but… my book required a place where a tired mum might lie back and doze in the sunshine. In Scotland she’d be more likely to sit hunched into her anorak, teeth chattering and wishing the kids would hurry up with their paddle and they could all go for a hot drink.
Then I knew where my book would play out. Cornwall. Way back when I was seven or eight, we went on the first of three holidays there. They have merged in my memory, but I remember arriving the first time after my first ever flight, to Newquay. I stepped out of the plane, clutching my father’s hand, and the heat struck me immediately. I remember the buildings in Newquay, much lighter in colour than any I’d seen at home, and all the posh hotels – they had palm trees in the gardens! To a Glasgow child it was a different world, and I loved it on sight.
What I remember most, though, is the sea. Those waves. Huge breakers, crashing up the beach, blue and green and white water swirling around rocks, making little pools where you found tiny fish, if you were lucky. I remember the high cliffs, dark against the blueness of the sky, and the gloomy, mysterious caves. We would go to the beach every morning and play, or watch the young men riding the breakers on their surfboards, or explore the caves. In the afternoons we’d usually go somewhere. I remember the deliciously shocked feeling at being allowed to put jam on cream – or was it cream on jam?! – on my scone.
Cornwall is the ideal location for my book. The Cold Cold Sea begins on a beach a little way up the coast from Newquay, and continues in Polpayne, a fictional fishing village further along still. Making the immediate surroundings of your plot fictional has the advantage that you can adapt the geography of the place to suit yourself, while retaining the real features of the landscape and the nearby towns. The story begins when Maggie and family go to a deserted little cove to spend the morning making sand pies and enjoying the sunshine. At one point, Maggie closes her eyes for a moment, secure in the knowledge that three-year-old Livvy is running across to her daddy and brother at the rock pools. But Livvy never arrives there. Did she go into the sea, now creeping up the beach, or did she go back to the cottage? Maggie doesn’t know. We can all imagine the panic.
Another important part of the book is set in Polpayne Castle Primary, where five-year-old Hailey starts school and immediately starts having problems, too. This location was more problematic. I went to school in Scotland, but the system there is different to the English one and anyway, it was several decades ago. The schools I’ve worked in are all in Switzerland and all for children with special needs. Fortunately, I know a couple of UK teachers who were kind enough to answer my questions, and to cover any mistakes I might make, I made the school a private one, which gave me a little more flexibility. It was great fun, creating Hailey’s class. The other children are very minor characters in the story, but all fourteen have names, and their antics bring a touch of humour to the book.
Writing The Cold Cold Sea was almost as good as going on holiday. I’ve never revisited Cornwall, but I would sit at my desk remembering, and imagining, almost feeling the wind in my hair as my characters wandered along the cliff tops. And who knows – maybe one day I’ll go back.
Linda, thank you – and I’m sorry it took me so long to discover your wonderful writing. I’m very much looking forward to trying your series of novellas too…
About the author
Linda Huber grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, but went to work in Switzerland for a year aged twenty-two, and has lived there ever since. Her day jobs have included working as a physiotherapist in hospitals and schools for handicapped children, and teaching English in a medieval castle. Currently she teaches one day a week, and writes psychological suspense novels and feel-good novellas with (most of) the rest of her time.
Her writing career began in the nineties, when she had over fifty short stories published in women’s magazines. Several years later, she turned to psychological suspense fiction, and her seventh novel, Death Wish, was published by Bloodhound Books in August 2017.
Linda’s latest project is a series of feel-good novellas, set on the banks of Lake Constance and just minutes from her home in north-east Switzerland. She really appreciates having the views enjoyed by her characters right on her own doorstep!