It’s a real pleasure today to be joining the blog tour today for Down to the Sea by Sue Lawrence, published by Contraband – the Saraband imprint for literary fiction from the darker side – on 21st February for kindle, and now also available in paperback. My thanks to Kelly at #LoveBooksGroupTours for the invitation: it was actually Kelly’s own review (you’ll find it here) that first made me aware of this book (you’ll find that review here, together with some lovely “extras”): it’s now on my kindle, and I do hope I can add it to my immediate reading list before too long because it looks like one I’d really enjoy…
When Rona and Craig buy a large Victorian house up from Edinburgh’s Newhaven district – once teeming with fishing boats – they plan to renovate and set it up as a luxury care home. But something is not quite right: disturbing sounds can be heard when the sea mists swirl; their unpredictable neighbour makes it clear that the house was not always a happy family home. And their ‘characterful’ historic pile has a gloomy cellar harbouring relics from days gone by.
Back in the 1890s, superstitious fishwives blame young Jessie for the deaths of their menfolk in a terrible storm, and she’s forced into the Newhaven Poorhouse. In those less enlightened times, life was often severe, cruel even, and Jessie is entirely at the mercy of a tyrant matron. But one inmate is not all she seems. Jessie begins to pick at the truth, uncovering the secrets and lies that pervade the poorhouse – and which will have profound and dangerous consequences in the future.
Definitely one for me, eh? But, with apologies, no review from me today – I’m delighted to share an extract…
‘What d’you mean, they grind up dead babies’ bones?’
Jessie turned to the tall boy who was holding out his tin bowl for porridge. He had just told her he was now old enough to be working with the men, even though he was only fifteen, and their job today was to crush babies’ bones.
The boy leant in towards her. He smelled funny so she wanted to draw back, but he started whispering. Jessie glanced round to where Molly was talking to Matron at the door. They were no doubt discussing whatever delicacy Molly had for Matron and the Governor today. Molly said Matron seemed to take little interest in food, whereas the Governor enjoyed both food and drink. His red nose reminded Jessie of Old Tom who was to be found every day at The Stone Pier Inn opposite the harbour. In summer, he was given a chair outside. He always had a tankard of ale in his hand. Jessie’s mum used to say not to go near him – he would lash out at the children nearby the more he had to drink. The one time she and Dorrie had no choice but to pass close by, the stink of him was enough to make them want to vomit.
‘The dead babies have their bones all hacked up then pounded up into dust and made into porridge.’ The boy nodded at the pot in front of her. ‘That porridge.’
‘That’s not true. It can’t be true.’ Molly waddled back over to the serving table, so Jessie asked, ‘This isn’t made from dead babies’ bones, is it?’
‘Billy, is that you telling tales again? Of course not, Jessie. Now get on with your work. And you, Billy Muir, be on your way.’ Molly thumped down the ladle and said to Jessie, ‘You’ve been here a good few months now. You know that boy’s trouble. Ignore him. Stay clear of all those boys.’
Once the last bowl of porridge had been ladled out, Jessie looked over the dining room where the Governor had finished morning prayers and was sweeping past them with his usual scowl. Squashed side by side on rickety benches at four long tables were the residents, heads bent low over the thin porridge. Two tables were for men and boys, two for women and girls. There was no conversation – no talking was allowed. Everyone had their heads bent low, concentrating on eating. Jessie started clearing the serving table ready to take the pan and ladle back to the kitchen.
Rather looking forward to making some space to read this one – wishing you every success with it Sue!
About the author
As well as writing three very popular and well-reviewed historical mysteries published in the UK and overseas, Sue Lawrence is one of the UK’s leading cookery writers, with eighteen published cookbooks.
Having trained as a journalist in Dundee, she won BBC’s MasterChef in 1991 and became a food writer, regularly contributing to Scotland on Sunday, as well as being the Sunday Times’ food writer for six years.
Born in Dundee and raised in Edinburgh, she now lives near Newhaven, Edinburgh – the setting for her latest novel. She has won two Guild of Food Writers Awards and a Glenfiddich Food and Drink Award, and now focuses on researching and writing historical fiction.