I've only just started Lesley Thomson's Detective's Daughter series, and so she is a new author to me. Of course, I loved The Detective's Daughter, and that meant I was excited to read Death of a Mermaid, Thomson's new stand-alone novel. The title and the cover are just the beginning of intrigue in this book. As in the previous book I'd read by the author, Death of a Mermaid envelops the reader in a sense of place so completely that I'm still smelling the fish from the fish market and feeling the cold damp of the gunnery caves. Thomson is an absolute master at making a setting come alive for readers. And, the characters are complex and come with a great back story, a story with unresolved issues for Freddy Power. The family and friends Freddy left behind 22 years ago become fully fleshed out with the memories of the three high school girls who called themselves The Mermaids and their reconnection all these years later. The investigation into the deaths of a young man and his mother, one clearly a murder, spins a story that will captivate you to the very end. The deaths are the beginning of secrets revealed and danger building for Freddy and all those she loves. With the strengths of setting, characters, and plot, it's clear why Death of a Mermaid is such a compelling tale. Told by the three women, who are now either 40 or almost so, the chapters are arranged in alternate views and different pieces to a puzzling past by Freddy, Toni, and Mags.
Freddy Power has returned home to Newhaven, England after 22 years away, 22 years of exile by her father for her admitting to being gay. Fred Power, her father, sent her away and forbade her to explain or contact her two brothers. Her exile continued even after her father's death. Now it's Freddy's mother who is dying, and when Freddy shows up to see her dying mother, her brothers don't understand why she stayed away so long, with brother Ricky being outwardly hostile towards Freddy. Her other brother, Andy, the one whom she was close to in age and emotionally, seems glad to have her back. And, there are her close friends, Mags and Toni, who as a group called themselves The Mermaids in school, due to their love of Disney's The Little Mermaid movie. Their bond helped them navigate their way through a stern Catholic education. Toni is now a detective with the local police force and Mags works at the library and is still involved in the Catholic church. Reunions after a lengthy amount of time can be tricky, and if there are secrets involved, they can be downright dangerous. While Toni seems open to renewing the friendship, Toni is dating Freddie's brother Ricky, which poses problems for all three of them. Mags, who once meant the world to Freddy, is avoiding her, not eager to revisit the past.
Freddy's mother dies before Freddy can make all her train connections to get home. No goodbyes, no reconciliations, only sorrow and regret. Freddy was hopeful that her mother would have asked for her or had words of love for her, but the woman who had once been a loving mother hadn't even asked anyone to call Freddy. A short text from Mags saying that Freddy's mother was sick two days before the death was all Freddy had received from anyone. The will leaves the family fishing business and everything else to Andy and Ricky, nothing to Freddy. Although hurt by her mother not leaving her even a token of remembrance, it's something Freddy accepts without comment. She might have just quietly slipped away from Newhaven after her mother's funeral, but Andy needs her, and she feels obligated. Their mother had run a pet sitting business out of her home, and Freddy agrees to stay until all the animals are picked up by their owners. Also, Andy's employee who was the mobile fishmonger has died, and Freddy agrees to help with that. The dead employee happens to be Karen Munday, a former member of the Mermaids, until kicked out, and she isn't just dead. Karen has been murdered. When one of the other Mermaids disappears, Freddy can't walk away again without finding her friend and resolving some questions about her Power family, both dead and living, .
Lesley Thomson is a storyteller who weaves vivid impressions with just the right tools. The use of three narrators in short chapters gives the reader insight into each of the Mermaids' perceptions of the past and the present, without getting bogged down for too long in any one character's thoughts or feelings. It moves the story along and keeps the suspense building at an exciting pace. The language entrances the reader with its ability to create mood and precise description. "Freddy felt the alcohol curdle in her stomach" conveys the exact effect of unsettled needed. The thrilling twists are deftly placed, and Thomson manages to keep readers guessing as to the outcome and the villains, just the way I like it. I have quickly become an enthusiastic fan of Lesley Thomson's writing, and Death of a Mermaid is proof positive of just how many great tales this author has to tell. Thomson will hook you, reel you in, and make you glad to have been caught.