Isolated and unwelcome in the picturesque seaside village of Rawscar, Reverend Cass Fordyce has lost her faith and her home. Christmas is coming, and she isn’t looking forward to it. Then she meets attractive local man Hal – twice divorced and with a reputation as a ladies’ man he’s everything that a celibate vicar like Cass should avoid… especially as Hal is hiding secrets of his own, including his past with the mysterious Anna.
Can Cass ever find her way in Rawscar? What secret does Hal have to hide? And is there ever such a thing as a truly fresh start?
I’ve had this on my Kindle for ages and kept meaning to get around to reading it. Finally, in the lull between Christmas and New Year, I managed it, and I really wish I’d made time to read it earlier. I loved it!
The story centres around vicar Cass, who becomes homeless at the very beginning of the book when a rather dramatic event unfolds. This takes her into the path of local ladies’ man Hal, who comes to her rescue. Unfortunately, Hal seems to make a habit of rescuing women, as he’s also very much involved with an emotionally-damaged young woman called Anna, who is clearly suffering and is desperately in need of help, though she’s definitely not looking to the church for guidance. In fact, if anything, Cass’s status as vicar seems to put Anna on her guard.
As if being a female vicar doesn’t set her apart enough, Cass is very much an ‘incomer’ to the closed-off community at Rawscar on the North Yorkshire coast. Sometimes it seems, she doesn’t know where she belongs. With a tragic past of her own to come to terms with, Cass struggles when her faith is tested and she begins to wonder if she’s even in the right job.
As circumstances lead her to closer contact with Anna, she is drawn into a real mystery, and realises that maybe the young woman needs more help than she can offer her – and more help than even Hal can give her. And the other problem, of course, is that she is increasingly drawn to Hal. But he couldn’t be more unsuitable for her, and surely Bishop Call-Me-Ken would disapprove strongly of any liaison between them? And how can they start any kind of relationship anyway, when it’s obvious that he and Anna are tied together in ways she can’t begin to understand …
I really, really enjoyed this story. I loved Cass and sympathised with her totally. She really is caught between a rock and a hard place, dealing with non-believers, fervent churchgoers with fixed opinions, and villagers who seem to disapprove of her and mock her, either because she’s a woman vicar or – even worse – an incomer. Cass feels she has a lot to live up to, with the memory of her father ever in her mind. He was also a vicar, and was so perfect that Cass’s mother never recovered from his loss. Cass really wants to do him proud, but living up to such a wonderful man is tough, and she’s just not sure she’s worthy. The great thing about Cass is that she’s a very realistic, human character. She struggles with doubt, has lustful thoughts, is sometimes less than impressed with people, but she keeps trying and does her best for even those villagers who seem to deserve her help the least. She’s also very funny. There’s lots of humour in the book, and a running joke about the vicar’s knickers!
Hal was a bit of a worry at first. The village gossips didn’t paint a very flattering picture of him, and I hoped Cass wasn’t going to be taken in by a wrong ‘un. As the story progressed, however, and Hal’s past was revealed, I changed my opinion of him, and by the end of the book I had totally fallen for him and was rooting for him all the way.
Anna broke my heart. She’s in such a fragile state and is clearly suffering. I worried about her mental health, and then began to wonder what was really going on in Rawscar, as her dreams grew more vivid and she began to hear voices and see ghosts. I thought that part of the story was very clever and the whole mystery of the Maiden really drew me in and intrigued me, adding a whole new layer to what was already a gripping tale.
The village of Rawscar is a character in itself. The author describes it so vividly that I felt I could taste the salt from the sea and feel the wind ruffling my hair. The descriptions of the Victorian Market and the Blessing of the Boats was fantastic. I loved the picture the author painted of the little passageways and alleys leading off the main street, and the old cottages lining the winding street down to the sea. As someone who visits the North Yorkshire coast fairly regularly, I felt quite at home there! And, of course, the sea itself is a huge presence in the book. The contrast is sharply drawn between those who visit the village and say how beautiful the sea is, and those whose livelihoods depend on it; whose lives are intertwined with the ocean in all its many and varied moods; who have loved it and worked it and fought it and lost to it; those who respect and fear it, with good reason …
This is a really lovely novel that tugs at the heartstrings. I got quite tearful at several points in the story, which is always a good sign! It also deals, very adeptly, with love and faith, guilt and regret, forgiveness and redemption, grief and loss and new beginnings. I was totally caught up in the story and felt sad when it ended, even though I’d been longing to know how things would turn out.
A really excellent read, and I’ll definitely be reading more from Liz Taylorson.
You can buy The Little Church by the Sea here.