Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook

Today I’m pleased to be sharing an extract from Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter as part of the Random Things Tours blog tour.

Synopsis:

Fortune favours the brave . . .

It is 1886 and the Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them in Bannin Bay beyond stories of shimmering pearls and shells the size of soup plates – the very things her father has promised will make their fortune.

Ten years later, as the pearling ships return after months at sea, Eliza waits impatiently for her father to return with them. When his lugger finally arrives however, Charles Brightwell, master pearler, is declared missing. Whispers from the townsfolk point to mutiny or murder, but Eliza knows her father and, convinced there is more to the story, sets out to uncover the truth. She soon learns that in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, answers can cost more than pearls, and must decide just how much she is willing to pay, and how far she is willing to go, to find them.

A gloriously rich and wonderfully assured debut, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is set in a mesmerising yet unforgiving land, where both profit and peril lie deep beneath the ocean’s surface; rendered with astonishing clarity, it is a novel that marks Lizzie Pook as a name to watch.

Please check out the reviews from these fabulous bloggers.

Extract:

Prologue 

Bannin Bay, Western Australia, 1886 

Eliza has never seen a land that looks so very much like blood. From the deck of the steamer it glistens, stretching wide in a lazy, sun-blurred smear. 

She raises a hand against the glare, taking to tiptoes to squint over the polished guard rail. Before her, red dirt jitters in the heat, and the sea is a boisterous, blistering green. There is something unsettling about the weariness of the breeze, hot and filled with the mineral stench of seagrass. 

‘We made it, my loves, we did it. Marvellous.’ Her father’s oiled moustache lifts upwards as he grins. He turns from his family to look out across the strange landscape – mirrored bays and shadowy crags the colour of crushed insects. 

This journey will be what saves them. Father had told them so over mutton and gravy back home. He regaled them with tales of pearl shells first, their shining nacres of champagne, silver and cream. He was to work with his brother to launch a fleet of luggers, hauling shell to sell in bulk to the Americans and the French. The world was already lapping up the spoils of Bannin Bay, turning mother-of-pearl into buttons and the prettiest pistol handles you ever did see. 

They’d watched, with jaws slack, as Father had pulled out his old atlas, folded down the page and smoothed his palm across the place called New Holland. ‘Look.’ He showed them, trailing a finger down its western coast. ‘When we’re there, we will be able to forget about all that has happened.’ 

The beach in front of Eliza flares white and harsh. Dunes, sharp with swaying saltbush, ripple far into the distance. Below the rail, gulls skirl around a jetty that unfurls like a crocodile’s crooked tail into a long gut of mangroves. 

Her father gives the order and leads them steadily off the ship – her uncle Willem, her aunt Martha, followed closely by her mother and brother. Thomas is a head taller than her now, conspicuous in this heat in his short trousers and smart pressed jacket. Glancing back, she can see the hunched shoulders of stevedores. In grubby vests and moleskins to the knee, they lug what remains of the Brightwells’ belongings out of the ship. 

Grasping at her mother’s skirts, Eliza steps down to the jetty. As she does, and with the speed of a knife over lard, her feet slide from beneath her and she thuds, backside first, onto the planks. The odour is obscene but she places a flat palm on the greasy wood. There are fish scales smeared about and stringy meat going crisp in the sun. ‘Come, Eliza. Brush your- self off.’ Her mother extends a broad, comforting hand. 

Eliza rubs her elbows, smooths her skirts and lets her mother tug her to her feet. The sun has scattered coins of light across the sea; they make her eyes swim with stars. Looking up, she finds the sky obscured by the crescent of her mother’s silk hat, the brim so absurdly wide she has seen men cowering from it back home. How odd she seems against this strange new place, Eliza thinks, like a dragonfly, once resplendent, marooned in a bucket of old slop water

They continue down the jetty, her father and brother striding ahead. Sweat pools in the crooks of her elbows and at the creases behind her knees. Beside them, men watch unflinchingly as they pass, turning caulking mallets, hammers and dirtied blades in rough hands. Her mother pays them no heed – an easy task for someone accustomed to admiration – and looks instead across the shoreline and out to the shot silk of the sea. 

‘You see, my girl, it’s beautiful.’ She smiles and kneels to the height of her daughter. Eliza hears the rush of liquid before it happens. Sees the movement at the corner of her eye but turns away a heartbeat too late. With a sigh it splashes across them – thick with chunks and foul-smelling. It slides with grim slowness down Eliza’s face. They turn together towards a man who has frozen in position, sun-grizzled as a raisin and with only a few grey teeth. He holds a barrel full of fish guts under an arm and a cracked palm raised in surrender. 

‘My apologies,’ he gasps, although a smile plays about his lips. ‘You ladies got right in the way. I beg your pardon.’ He stands aside to let them pass. ‘Please.’ 

Her mother gives a huff as she jerks her daughter sharply onwards. Smearing the guts from her cheeks, Eliza turns to see the man remove his hat. She watches as he hawks a knot of phlegm from his throat, depositing it at his feet with a gluey string of spittle. Her mother quickens to an appalled trot, still pulling at Eliza’s arm, but she keeps her head turned backwards. 

The words barely reach her before they are snatched by the breeze. Four words she’ll always remember. 

‘Welcome to Bannin Bay,’ they say. 

Author Bio:

Lizzie Pook is an award-winning journalist and travel writer contributing to The Sunday

TimesLonely PlanetRough GuidesCondé Nast Traveller and more. Her assignments have taken her to some of the most remote parts of the planet, from the uninhabited east coast of Greenland in search of roaming polar bears, to the foothills of the Himalayas to track endangered snow leopards.

She was inspired to write Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, her debut novel, after spending time in north-western Australia researching the dangerous and fascinating pearl-diving industry. She lives in London.

You can find Lizzie on Twitter and Instagram: @LizziePook.

By Karen K is reading

An avid reader from the age of 4. Love escaping into a good novel after a busy day working with students. Mum of teenagers. Adopter of dogs.

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