The Cold Cold Sea by Linda Huber
They stared at each other, and Maggie felt the tightness in her middle expand as it shifted, burning its way up – Painful sobs rose from her throat as Colin, his face expressionless now, reached for his mobile and dialled 999.
When three-year-old Olivia disappears, her parents are overwhelmed with grief. Weeks go by and Olivia’s mother refuses to leave the cottage, staring out at the turbulent sea and praying it didn’t claim her precious daughter’s life. Not far away, another mother watches proudly as her daughter starts school. Jennifer has loved Hailey for five years, but the child is suddenly moody and difficult, and there’s a niggling worry of doubt that Jennifer cannot shake off. As she struggles to maintain control there are gaps in her story that even she can’t explain. Time is running out for Maggie at the cottage, and also for Jennifer and Hailey. No-one can underestimate a mother’s love for her child, and no-one can predict the lengths one will go to, to protect her family.
In my review of Linda Huber’s novel, The Paradise Trees, I said it was an amazing debut from a talented writer, and I thought I’d like to read more of her work.
I had no idea what an understatement that was.
Her newest release, The Cold Cold Sea, deals with many of the same themes as The Paradise Trees—success/failure of parent-child relationships, the seductive descent into mental illness, the contrasting ways people deal with horrific events. But that’s where the resemblance ends.
The book opens with an idyllic summer day at the Cornwall seaside, a family beach holiday, and a little girl collecting seashells as a present for her grandmother. When Maggie and Colin, her frantic parents, are unable to find three-year-old Olivia, their lives turn into a nightmare of blame, grief, and despair as searchers reluctantly abandon hope of finding her. At the same time, we meet another couple, Jennifer and Philip, who faced that same nightmare when their daughter Hailey drowned.
As the lives of these two damaged couples are entangled by shared tragedy, we see the differing ways they respond to the same tragic event. One couple faces a slide into mental illness and loss, while the other passes through blame and self-loathing to reach for a fragile chance at a happier future. Ironically it is their acceptance of their own humanity that allows them to remember their daughter’s life with joy and love.
But entwined in this are two other characters. One is a frightened, confused, and lost child. Her world has been shaken, her life is in the hands of strangers, and her very identity taken from her. The other is Katie McLure, a concerned and caring teacher trying to reach her troubled student, a child who seems to have everything, but whose parents have inexplicably failed to hang onto childhood treasures—a beloved teddy bear, kitten, family photos.
And as backdrop to their stories, there is the sea itself, by turns enemy, lover, and ultimate deliverance. At first it’s a warm, sunny symbol of beauty and joy. “The beach would be covered in water now; surging, white-tipped waves beneath a flawless blue sky.” In a moment, like life itself, the sea is completely different. “The water took hold of her again, pulling at her and pulling and all at once it was right up to her chin and there were no white horses at all, just cold cold water.” Finally, it’s the sea that provides release from unbearable pain and loss. “The world was getting smaller… It was so cold here. It was as if she was floating in white water, just floating, and then suddenly, everything was gone.”
The Cold Cold Sea is every parent’s worst nightmare. Losing a child is the ultimate reversal of the way our world is supposed to work. But in Linda Huber’s hands, this psychological thriller plays out against a background of the most powerful of forces, a mother’s love. When that bond is broken for two mothers, we see them face devastating loss. While one of them creates a nightmare world of self-delusion, the other finds the inner strength to face life for the sake of her family, and eventually to reclaim the memory of the daughter she loved so much.
Linda Huber’s beautifully balanced prose gives us a glimpse of both sides of reaction when a parent’s greatest fear becomes their reality. From the seductive descent into madness to the strength needed to face grief but embrace life—this was one book I couldn’t put down. There’s no question that I’d give it five out of five stars. Linda Huber might be a new author, but she’s at the top of her game.
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
- Book Title: The Cold Cold Sea
- Author: Linda Huber
- Genre: Psychological Thriller
- Publisher: Amazon Media EU
- Length: 256 pages
- Release Date: 1 August 2014
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