Two women’s lives, 100 years apart, are centred on a single isolated lighthouse and town on the Queensland Coast, in Kimberley Freeman’s latest novel Lighthouse Bay. In 1901, Isabella Winterbourne is the sole survivor of a shipwreck bringing a stunning jewel-decked golden mace as a gift from her husband’s family to the new government in Australia. She survived the wreck, and clutches the chest containing the mace and a far greater treasure to her – a baby bracelet from her baby son, who died as an infant of 15 days old, three years ago. She survived the wreck, and watched as her husband drowned, and does not regret that one bit, nor does she miss him, for he and his family were unforgiving and unloving and she has never felt accepted by them at all.
In 2011, Libby Slater has just watched from a distance in Paris as her married lover Mark Winterbourne was buried, knowing that while she feels the same grief as his lovely wife, she is not able to show it or share it for their liaison was a guilty secret kept from the world. Libby, in fact, has kept many secrets not least being that she is from an isolated town on the Queensland coast, and that Mark had bought her the cottage near the lighthouse as a gift that they could share one day.
While in 1901 Isabella makes her slow, dangerous way along the coastline to the lighthouse she can see in the distance, Libby makes her decision to move back to Australia and to the cottage, which is a stone’s throw from her sister and secrets she had left behind twenty years ago. When she gets there, she discovers that the old is in serious danger from the new, as developers are vying for her attention to buy her cottage and make a resort on the last remaining piece of land in the area. Her sister, none too pleased to see her, instantly assumes Libby will sell up and in so doing, destroy the town, as she seemingly destroyed her sister’s life so long ago. Libby, in turn, gets distracted from her grief by a mystery that emerges when people are found lurking round her cottage, and the disused lighthouse, under cover of darkness. She uncovers the story of a love between a loner lighthouse keeper and a mysterious woman referred to only as I, who seems to have a supply of jewels about her.
Isabella’s story, of a lone women making a life for herself after all she had was washed away, is one of determination and of finding support in the most unlikely places. On the other hand, Libby, a strong and independent woman, finds that she needs to both give support and let others help her in order to move on from her own past. This is a well-constructed story with great attention to detail of the lighthouse keeper’s life in early Australian history, as well as a gripping mystery that kept me turning the pages long past bed time!
Available now: Hachette RRP$32.99