In 1992, Ruth and Michael have purchased a ramshackle Georgian house on the island, intending to fix it up and open a bed and breakfast. The house used to be the manse long before a new modern house was built. In tearing up the floorboards in the study, Michael finds the small corpse of a baby, although its legs are unfinished, looking more like a fish tail.
The body is at least 100 years old and its death is found to be of natural causes, but Ruth becomes interested in finding out more about the long-ago occupants of the house, hoping to identify the baby. She begins looking into the house’s history.
Ruth also knows very little about her own history. When she was 10, her mother’s death by drowning was found to be suicide, and she grew up in a series of foster homes. She knows nothing about her father, and all her mother told her was that they came from the islands and were descended from selkies. Her last name was Macleod, which she finds is a very common name there, but when she consults a genealogist, the woman can find no trace of a woman of her mother’s name and age born on the islands, leading them to guess that she was using a false name.
In 1860, Alexander Ferguson is the new curate at the manse. He is serious and eager to serve god and his parishioners. He is also interested in the new discoveries about evolution and studies fossils looking for new species. His family legend also holds that he is descended from selkies, and he is fascinated when he hears that a mermaid was discovered on the beach after a storm. He would like to examine her, but she has already been buried and the authorities won’t dig her up. He becomes interested in the idea that selkies might actually exist and could be a cross-species between man and fish.
Alexander has also taken in a new maid, a girl found running wild. Moira’s family was moved off their island along with all the other families so that Lord Marston could put sheep on it. The families were allocated the worst piece of land and all of them except Moira got sick and died. Moira was away from the house when Lord Marston’s men came and burned it down, and she was living wild until the reverend took her in. She loves the reverend but has vowed to kill Lord Marston.
This novel is well written and interesting. I was engrossed in both the modern and historical stories. The novel is particularly interesting for those who like Celtic legends and folk tales.