Down to the Sea: a dark Victorian Scottish mystery

Posted on March 12, 2019

Down to the Sea, the latest historical thriller by Sue Lawrence and published by Contraband on 14 March 2019, powerfully evokes Victorian Edinburgh and reveals what harbour life was really like, both for fishwives and the unfortunate inmates of poorhouses.

Described by Kirsty Ware as “a haunting, moving story”, it features a dual timeline – with one strand of the story set in the 1890s, the other in the 1980s. And Down to the Sea conjures up the sights, sounds and smells of the 19th century in a story of revenge tinged with a hint of the supernatural.

In 1981, Rona and Craig buy a large Victorian house up from Edinburgh’s Newhaven district – once teeming with fishing boats – which they plan to renovate and set 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.