The Brighton Mermaid

The Brighton Mermaid


Brighton Beach, 1993

Nell and Jude are just teenagers when they find a body on the beach. When nobody comes forward to claim the young woman's body she becomes known as 'The Brighton Mermaid.' Three weeks later Nell is finding it difficult to move on when Jude goes missing.

Twenty five years later Nell quits her job to looking into the events of that summer - who was The Brighton Mermaid and why did Jude disappear? As Nell edges closer to the truth she begins to suspect someone is watching her and to wonder who in her life she can really trust.

Our Review

Warning this review contains some small spoilers.

The Brighton Mermaid by Dorothy Koomson made it onto our list of New Books to Look Out for in May 2018. The reason it made this list initially is that I love Dorothy Koomson’s books and I always read her new books. Having read it I would promote it to the top of my list of books to read this year let alone in May.

Before reading The Brighton Mermaid my favourite book by Dorothy Koomson was The Chocolate Run but now my favourite book by her is The Brighton Mermaid.

The Brighton Mermaid is full of suspense from the very beginning and begins with a woman being chased.

“The world around me is full of their footsteps, moving across the earth, chasing me down.”

The Brighton Mermaid is a split-narrative tale told from the perspective of Nell in the present and in the early 90’s, and also from the perspective of her sister Macy.

In 1993 Nell and her best friend Jude find a dead body on Brighton Beach at 3am whilst they are walking home from a party.

“We were both staring at her. She looked soft, lying there on top of the pebbles, half in, half out the water, her face serene. Even with the foamy tide continuously nudging at her, trying to get her to wake up, she was still; tranquil, lifeless.”

Jude leaves Nell down on the beach while she goes to call the police. Both girls are nervous about talking to the police because they shouldn’t have been out at the party.

Whilst Jude is away Nell can’t help but notice the dead girls distinctive tattoo, a tattoo that will eventually lead to the press calling her ‘The Brighton Mermaid.’

“I could see every curl of the mermaid’s short, thick black Afro hair…

I couldn’t stop looking at her. She was mythical, she was a picture, but she was also like a siren at whom I couldn’t stop staring. In the waves beneath the mermaid’s rock, there were three words in a swirling, watery script: I am Brighton.”

In the present Nell has been saving up to be able to afford to quit her job to focus on a search that has consumed her for almost 25 years – who was the Brighton Mermaid? In her spare time Nell has spent time focusing on searching for missing people using a mixture of genealogy research and DNA.

In the present Nell is receiving messages from someone who is originally unnamed for the reader. These messages peaked my interest and made me wonder who was sending them and why, further adding to the tension present in the book.

“It uses the same five words to control me. Sometimes I think I look in the hopes it will be different, that the screen after the message tone will say something else. But no, it’s the same as always: He needs to see you.”

Back in 1993 Nell was able get a small glimpse of the impact finding the body would have on her future.

“We were going to find out that she had been murdered. That her last minutes were awful, full of terror and pain. I looked into the faces of the police officers, saw how angry they were that we were wasting their time like this, and knew our lives were never going to be the same again.”

The chapters from the perspective of Macy highlight the impacts of that night in the most powerful way. Macy has severe anxiety problems which affect her daily life and have lead to her developing numerous compulsive habits. Including having to call Nell at a precise time every Saturday morning because of how she feels when Nell answers.

“I felt my worries – a tight little bundle that sat in the middle of my chest, resting heavily on my heart – untangle; become transparent and manageable.”

Macy has a lot of resentment towards Nell from that night and because of a secret she must keep from her and has kept from her for almost 25 years.

In 1993 Nell and Jude were suspected of involvement in the murder and questioned ruthlessly without an adult present. The lead policemen was named Pope and his style of questioning was particularly aggressive and made Jude cry. This made Nell determined not to cry because although Jude was the strong one Nell was the stubborn one.

“He could see I wasn’t going to give in. ‘You two are a couple of those dirty girls aren’t you,’ he said quietly. ‘You all act good and prim for the parents, but really you’re always out, catting about. You can’t keep your legs shut. You’re dirty girls. Dirty little sluts.”

This comment in particular haunted Nell well into the present and had an impact on her future relationships, or lack thereof.

Another event just weeks later profoundly effected Nell’s future as well. On the morning of Thursday the 15th July Nell’s dad woke her up to inform her that Jude had gone missing and to find out if she knew anything about where she had gone. 25 years later she is still missing and the search for her and the Brighton Mermaid consumes her.

As the anniversary draws closer Nell’s search becomes more dangerous and it is clear someone is trying to put her off.

The Brighton Mermaid is in no way an easy book to read, as well as dealing with murder it also covers severe anxiety, abuse and consistent racism. This last topic was one of the most interesting aspects of the book and particularly well written.

When Nell’s father is arrested for the first time it is clear that a large part of his arrest and subsequent treatment is the racism and prejudice inherent in the local police force. Pope’s behaviour while abhorrent is just a symptom of a larger problem.

“I’ve never seen such violence before…. All I could do was watch as dad’s facial muscles were tautened by torture, his body twisted and held in unnatural ways, blood spilling from his mouth. This was brutal and horrifying, cruel and inhumane.”

The years Pope victimized, and bullied Nell and her family were made possible by the inherent attitudes of the police. Pope’s attitudes not only effected the girls but also had long lasting effects on both parents as well.

“What Pope had done had sliced away pieces of my father’s soul, leaving him diminished. He was still him – he had the same stature and deep, commanding voice. But he was also fretful in quiet moments, distant where before he had been engaged.”

The girl’s mother had been similarly altered by the harassment her husband had suffered at the hands of the police.

“Mum had been ‘good’ and polite and had kept away from trouble her whole life. She’d experienced racism and prejudice but she – like the rest of us people of colour – had been lied to, had been sold the promise that good behaviour, obedience, never causing trouble or fighting too hard for your rights, would keep you safe, keep you protected. That promise had been broken in the most violent, pugnacious and cruel way, and mum had never fully recovered from that trauma.”

One thing you can count on in Dorothy Koomson’s books is the phenomenal character building and The Brighton Mermaid is no exception to this. My favourite relationship was that between Nell and Macy which perfectly captured the love and hate that can exist between two siblings and the complex nature of such a relationship.

I loved this book and highly recommend it.


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