Mathew Pryde, a young engineer, is the central character in this novel of adventure, romance and mystery. The story is set in Northumberland, London and Kent at the end of the 18th and start of the early 19th centuries.
Mathew is commissioned to assess the possibility of building a lighthouse on the Black Corbie, which is a shipping hazard that has caused many fatal wrecks. His attempt to survey the island and to find support for the project from the villagers of Onswick and the local landowner is greeted with violence and intimidation. In trying to complete the survey, he also finds himself uncovering the blanket of secrecy that has always masked his own lonely and mysterious past. His attraction to the beautiful Grace Fenwick leads him into even more dangerous and uncharted water than his surveying of the Black Corbie.
In this novel the author has achieved a balance between the story line, characters and historical detail. Mathew Pryde is a strong and attractive central character. Nicholas Elmstead, Kate Denton, Grace Fenwick and the other minor characters are all interesting, but not overpowering.
Historical detail has been used with great effect to conjure up a sense of place and period. Engineering, nautical and geographical information have all been interwoven into the story with great skill. The curricle race, duelling scene and the colourful description of Mathew’s journey on the Edinburgh Diligence from Newcastle northwards all demonstrate the author’s ability to use factual detail without overshadowing the characters or the story. The plot moves along at a brisk pace, and you reach the last page before realising it. This novel is quite simply a riveting good read.