I knew Chris Longmuir as a writer of dark crime novels, the first of which, Dead Wood won the Dundee International prize and was an instant sell-out. She followed this with the equally tense Night Watcher so I was not sure what to expect from a historical novel. I need not have worried for from its evocative title to its satisfying ending A Salt Splashed Cradle keeps the reader totally absorbed in the lives of its characters.
This historical romance is set in the north-east of Scotland in a 19th century fishing community and it is clear the author knows her stuff and has done her research into both the place and time. Yet it is research which sits lightly and doesn’t ‘show off’ and we are transported back in time to experience the customs and way of life of the people who lived and worked there, dependent on the sea.
The characters, especially the refreshingly non-stereotypical heroine Belle, are authentically multi-layered and come across as real people whose lives we care about. Belle is an outsider who marries into the community and faces the difficulties of all outsiders; especially one who isn’t certain she wants to belong. Belle’s husband, Jimmie, wants to save enough money to buy his own boat but to do so he must go with the whalers, leaving Belle – beautiful, discontented and ostracized by her mother-in-law and the community – behind for months at a time. Add to the mix the Laird’s son Lachlan, who knows he can never command his father’s respect or affection, and who is strongly attracted to Belle, despite (or perhaps because of) her lowly origins and we have the makings of an explosive storyline.
Chris Longmuir explores several themes in this novel including class barriers at a time when people were expected to know – and keep to – their place and the perennial insider/outsider problem and what happens when a community turns against someone. She also writes of many kinds of love: between men and women; parents and children. It is a hard life for the people who live and die, hope and love in this community and their lives are ruled by the sea, which gives and which takes. In A Salt Splashed Cradle, Chris Longmuir shows she is a spell-binding story teller.
Reviewed by Mary Smith
A Salt Splashed Cradle is available in Kindle format