A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
For the uninitiated, the towns of Margate, Rochester, Chatham, Northfall, Broadstairs and Deal, Seabrook on the north Kent coast seem relatively normal. People go to work, fall in love, fall out, go to the pubs and live life as you’d expect. But underneath this veneer is an unexpected world. It is full of dark secrets, tantalising glimpses of literary and artistic roots, hotbeds of pre-World War 2 fascist supporters and a raft of unsolved murders.
The literary threads that entwine the start of this book are from the authors John Buchan, Robin Maugham, TS Eliot and Dickens, and the fantastical paintings of the artist and murderer Richard Dadd. He contemplates the reasons why these men produced the art that they did as well as speculation over the way that the county wheedled its way into their work. Dickens unfinished book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood was set in a thinly disguised Rochester as Kent and Dickens are inseparable and he inhabits the landscape like a ghost from the past.
Broadstairs had its own secrets to tell though. An impressive house perched on top of the clifftop was once the home of Arthur Tester. The son of a diplomat and a German mother, he became a big supporter of the British Union of Fascists and was a spy and a channel for money coming over from Germany. He slipped away to the continent just before the start of World War II after the authorities were beginning to investigate his activities. The final chapter takes us to Deal; there Seabrook is in the sitting room of Gordon Meadows and is starting to hear the stories of the underground gay scene and the details of a horrific series of murders by someone called Jack the Stripper.
On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
There is very little of the of the suppressed anger and barely hidden rage that permeates the towns of this coastline, towns that have suffered from decades of neglect and no investment, rather this is a trip back into the past of these towns and a re-telling of events that people have tried to forget. The chapter I liked the most was the final one even though it was the most morbid, however, this is possibly one of the strangest books I have read in a while. The bleakness of the subjects along with Seabrook’s writing makes this feel desperate and disturbing, surreal and obsessive; it is strange as it is compelling. It is a book that when you have finished, you’ll set aside and it will make you wonder just what you have read. You will either love it, or hate it. Probably both. But read it anyway.