Friday, 22 April 2016

Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore & False Lights (

What we thought: This is my idea of a perfect book, so much so that I love to write in this style! Split between a modern day story, with a historical thread unwinding in the background, it very much put me in mind of Kate Mosse’s writing and her bestseller Labryinth.

This novel, however, is set on the remote Scottish Hebridean Islands and the story really begins when a newly-wed couple move into an old manse and find a child’s body buried beneath the floorboards during renovation works. But it’s a skeleton with a difference … which leads Ruth, herself originating from the Hebrides, to set upon a task to discover the secrets the house has hidden for many years.

Whilst in the 1860 historical thread, the truth of the tragedy unwinds as we follow the tale of a young vicar of the parish, Reverend Alexander Ferguson, who believes he can make changes for the better in this isolated island of Harris - but finds himself unwittingly drawn into the cruel world of the local landowner and forced to take part in not only the clearances but also matters closer to home.

With myth and mystery winding itself around every twist in the tale, how will the two threads finally meet – and who will get the happy ending they deserve?

I found this book both engaging and exciting. The pace doesn’t race along but settles you into the story so well that you absolutely have to know how both past and present threads end! The location is superbly described and the characters are real, with flaws and strengths, that make each of them stand out from the page. I thought the author handled her character, Ruth, with real insight into the human spirit which more than once touched my heart.

Having read the author’s notes, it gets an extra vote of confidence from me as I see her inspiration came from a real life letter to The Times newspaper from a Scottish clergyman of the period. For me, linking fiction with non-fiction tales of the past is a brilliant recipe for a novel. I really look forward to reading another novel from this talented author.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Kate Mosse, Barbara Erskine, Liza Perrat.

Avoid if you don’t like: Scotland, folk tales and secrets from the past.

Ideal accompaniments: Porridge and honey, black tea and oat cakes.

Genre: Cross-genre, historical

Available from Amazon

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