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Books Editorial

mermaid18.jpg The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

Imogen Hermes Gowar, Harvill Secker

This promising debut novel takes us back to London circa 1785 when Jonah Hancock, a merchant, loses a ship but acquires what he believes is a mermaid (deceased). It soon becomes the talk of the city with eager punters willing to stump up a fee to view the rather fearsome looking curiosity. It also comes to the attention of Bet Chappel, the owner of a well-to-do brothel, who hires the creature to be the focal point of her next, nautically themed, mega-orgy (one of the set-piece highlights of the novel). At this gathering Jonah meets Angelica Neal, one of the capital’s most celebrated courtesans, and – after a bit of push and shove – he falls in love with her. She, however, is romantically embroiled with a local nob and will only see Jonah again if he can produce a live mermaid. The middle section of the story sags a little – the book runs to nearly 500 pages – but the author pulls things around with a final section in which the mysterious qualities of the mermaid begins to work its peculiar magic.