Summary (from the blurb): When Sarah Fortune, with her impeccable qualifications and chequered history, is sent to a small seaside town in Norfolk, she goes willingly. Sorting out the inheritance problems of the Pardoes, Merton-on-Sea’s premier family, promises to distance her from a claustrophobic relationship with Malcolm Cook. Sarah cannot bear to be a captive. But she soon discovers that guilt, insecurity, unrequited love and a touch of insanity afflict the Pardoes and the town, the legacy of a suicide that took place two years before, when Elizabeth Tysall, a beautiful woman with an uncanny resemblance to Sarah herself, walked into the sea and never came back…
On the one hand, I had no trouble picking this up again and again and finishing it. There was a good range of characters, all were flawed, so far so good. I loved the character of Mouse Pardoe, quietly insane and loving every minute of it. Sarah turned out to be bizarrely promiscuous (I say bizarrely because it really jumps out of nowhere, there is no reason for it, and it’s brushed off as “she used to be a call girl”), but apart from that was a pleasant and clever protagonist. Most of the rest of them are just a bit strange and undercooked. Whether the intention was to convey the isolation of a seaside village in Norfolk or not, it doesn’t really work. The characters cycled through their emotions very quickly and a little abruptly for my taste.
The setting was beautifully described and constantly evoked, there’s always the sound of waves or seagulls or strong wind off the North Sea, which made up for some of the character weaknesses in keeping a strong background.
In terms of plot, we switch between Sarah’s efforts in Merton-on-Sea and sub-plots including her relationship with Malcolm (who dwindles into such insignificance for the middle half of the book that I was very surprised when he came back later!), her recent history in which she was attacked, and her potential connection to Elizabeth Tysall. I felt that the construct of Malcolm and his family around the main plot was fairly superfluous, but the connection to Elizabeth was an interesting (and chilling) thread to have running through the book.
Readable, but the character development was pretty weak.