The Darkest Shore

Written by Karen Brooks
Review by Marina Maxwell

The most famous Scottish witch trials and burnings took place in the late 16th century, but the prejudices and accusations lingered on for another century and more. This novel draws us into real events that took place in the fishing village of Pittenweem, Fife, in the early 1700s.

Sorcha McIntyre, a widow and mother grieving for her only child, returns to the village after an absence and is welcomed with open arms by her friends and fellow fishwives, but others are resentful. The Reverend Patrick Cowper is a religious zealot, a man who believes that “the fishwives represented everything he disapproved of: loud, godless women, women either without men to control them, teach them how to behave and keep them tamed and quiet or refusing to accept their rightful ascendancy…” and because they were able to earn their own keep, had money and property, this “only added to their sins.”

When a young man, Peter Morton, collapses with an unexplained fit of madness after being in Sorcha’s company, the fuse is lit for Cowper to charge Sorcha and her friends with witchcraft. Captain Aidan Ross of the militia tries his best to support Sorcha and the women in reports to Edinburgh authorities, but he has a fight on his hands with the fear and paranoia fuelled by Cowper.

Passages of extreme violence contrast with those offering hope and romance set against the atmospheric beauty of Scotland. The use of dialect words does not detract and adds further authenticity to the narrative. The excellent author’s notes give a comprehensive background into the creation of the book.

All the darker aspects of an insular society at the mercy of its own superstitions and subject to psychological manipulation are perfectly captured here. A memorable read.