‘The Mist on the Saltings’ begins by introducing you to the three main characters of the novel: Hilary and John Pansel and the small village of Bryde-by-the-sea (a portrait of which is given as the Frontispiece, for your assistance in pondering the murder).
John Pansel, who had been a promising painter before the war, sustains a severe abdominal injury in the conflict, and meets Hilary Keston in the hospital where she nurses him. Having been dismissed as ‘cured’ – despite chronic and debilitating after-effects from his wound – he passes a year in a state of depression before meeting Nurse Keston again. They fall in love and spark a renewed sense of hope and possibility in each other. They get married, move to the small, but artistically satisfying, village of Bryde, and settle down to an idyllic life of love in a cottage, happy to brave the temporary deprivations, in the certainty of John’s eventual fame and fortune.
Except, sadly, optimism, energy and hope very rarely win over life’s grimmer realities. The Great Depression, as well as John’s ongoing illness and personal depression, wears away at their dreams and ambitions like the eroding tides, until, ten years later, the couple are struggling, with little money, few close companions and a growing sense of bitterness.
And then, Dallas Fiennes, a rakish author of surpassing selfishness and a skeleton or two – who visits the village periodically in order to write – becomes bored and sets his sights on Hilary.
(and after all:
“…it was not to be supposed that any real danger existed… in the twentieth century – in England – above all, in Norfolk – injured husbands did not apply the melodramatic principles of the unwritten law” )
The book’s chief merits are good writing, characterisation and atmosphere. The saltings of Bryde are an important part of the plot, with their elusive beauty, so impossible to capture –
“…you dashed for your brush and palette, mixed up your colour wash, looked again – and behold, the sand had become grey, the saltings yellow, the sea purple”
– illustrate John’s perpetual striving and hopes; and just as perpetual frustration. And the mists themselves, thick, shrouding and treacherous, hang heavy over the book, inspiring murder and concealing the truth.
The main characters are well-drawn, with their motivations clear and the rather bullying and irritable Inspector Lamming was an interesting change of pace from the polite blankness of Inspector Poole.
Recommended, for a good, atmospheric read.