The Brighton Mermaid by Dorothy Koomson – Book review

Two reasons I loved The Brighton Mermaid: it’s set in my hometown and it’s a brilliant heart-thumping thriller. Actually, just after I read The Brighton Mermaid, I watched a brilliant bookish Zoom event where author Dorothy Koomson was one of the speakers and she termed her books in a brilliant way: Emotional Thrillers. Yes! Love this descriptor and it fully applies here.

Opening sentence: The ground is uneven and crunchy underfoot, and I stumble when I hit it.

Who is The Brighton Mermaid?

Told over a few time frames, but primarily 1993 and present day, we learn what happened when Enelle Okorie (known as Nell) and Judana Dalton (known as Jude) were teenagers and found the body of a young woman washed up on Brighton beach.

I remember the first tattoo I saw on dark brown skin was on the Brighton Mermaid.

She was never identified, so became known as The Brighton Mermaid. This has haunted Nell and, combined with her best friend Jude’s disappearance not shortly after they found the mermaid, and the story explores how this event of 25-years ago has affected her life and made her the person she is today, in terms of both her character and her passion in life.

There are a few story threads that are brilliantly woven together and that ending! I did not see it coming and was suitably shocked. I really warmed to Nell – she has been through a lot, bears the scars from that and is ultimately trying to get closure – on what happened to her best friend and who the Brighton mermaid really was.

Thriller with a message

I love Dorothy Koomson’s way with words. She keep the pace cracking (as in any good thriller) and also has such eloquent sentences like this:

His lips drew back as he loaded more of his poison-tipped words into his bow, ready to fire them at me.

The Brighton Mermaid felt like such a poignant book to be reading at the moment. Dorothy Koomson talks about the police’s abuse of power – both towards Black people and women. Our lead character, Nell, is a Black woman, so she receives the wrath of policeman John Pope on both counts. He is a racist misogynist and goes out of his way to make her life hell and persecute her family.

An ode to Brighton

Dorothy Koomson sets her scenes so well. I know that she lives in Brighton and she has captured the city so well here. From pubs I’ve been to (The Cricketers) to streets Nell walks down, having that sense of familiarity always makes me connect more with a book. I’ve even got a books-set-in-Brighton section on my Book Lists page, if you’re looking for more…

The Brighton Mermaid is my first read by Dorothy Koomson, but definitely won’t be my last!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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