The Cold, Cold Sea by Linda Huber

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Kindle Edition, 320 pages

Published: May 1, 2015 by Legend Times Group (1st published August 1, 2014)

Setting: England

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Recovering from a devastating loss is an agonizing, labyrinthine process that can take a lifetime. Grief — along with the myriad forms it takes — is the theme of this absorbing suspense novel by Glaswegian author Linda Huber.

Maggie and Colin look away briefly, while lingering on the beach with their children, and three-year-old Olivia disappears. After weeks of frantic searching, Olivia is presumed to have drowned, yet the sea has not yet given her back for burial. As they wait for closure, we see the crushing effects of this loss on Maggie and Colin, their son Joe, and their marriage.

Another couple, Jennifer and Phillip, struggle with a similar loss., and Jennifer has a history of mental illness. While Phillip spends his grandmother’s last days with her, Jennifer enrolls five-year-old Hailey in school. She is frantically worried and annoyed by unexplained changes in her daughter’s personality and drugs her to quell her crying and make her sleep. Desperate to have a normal, “perfect” daughter, Jennifer becomes viciously controlling. Hailey finds solace with her teacher, Katie, who offers nurturing and acceptance while secretly wondering why the child seems “backward,” not developmentally on a par with other five-year-olds.

It was not difficult to guess where this story was going, nonetheless, it was a page turner. One of the novel’s strengths is its portrayal of grief, guilt, and sadness; it’s believable and, at times, quite raw and real. In the context of this story, the author’s portrayal of Jennifer’s illness and Phillip’s bizarre codependent relationship with her works. Interestingly it’s based on Huber’s work with neurological patients.

Above all, The Cold, Cold Sea has a gripping premise, and it’s a page-turner. Part of what makes the premise so strong is that the sense of loss and guilt, which is portrayed so vividly, resonates deeply with parents. Don’t all of us, at a raw, primal level, fear losing our children? Haven’t we all looked away, for just a moment, allowing a child to stray? Struggled with moments of debilitating guilt? This aspect of the story, along with the suspense and skillful pacing, make The Cold, Cold Sea a compelling novel.

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