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A lowly merchant finds himself in possession of a surprisingly hideous mermaid in this romp through 18th-century London.
If your first thought upon seeing this book was a story starring a redheaded woman with a tail, let me clear the air: This is not one of those mermaid tales. The magical creature that haunts these pages is small, clawed, and, most importantly, dead. And yet, it is this small curiosity that brings together an unlikely cast of characters at the heart of this transporting novel set in 18th-century Lo...
One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.
As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlors, and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr. Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the door...
Get an early look from the first pages of The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock.Read a sample →
Jonah Hancock’s counting-house is built wedge-shaped and coffered like a ship’s cabin, whitewashed walls and black skirting, beam pegged snugly to beam. The wind sings down Union Street, raindrops burst against the windowpane, and Mr Hancock leans forward on his elbows, cradling his brow in his hands. Rasping his fingers over his scalp, he discovers a crest of coarse hair the barber has missed, and idles over it with mild curiosity but no irritation. In private, Mr Hancock is not much concerned with his appearance; in society, he wears a wig.
He is a portly gentleman of forty-five, dressed in worsted and fustian and linen, honest familiar textures to match his threadbare scalp, the silverish fuzz of his jowls, the scuffed and stained skin of his fingertips. He is not a handsome man, nor ever was one (and as he perches on his stool his great belly and skinny legs give him the look of a rat up a post), but his meaty face is amiable, and his small eyes with their pale lashes are clear and trusting. He is a man well designed for his station in the world: a merchant son of a merchant’s son—a son of Deptford—whose place is not to express surprise or delight at the rare things that pass through his rough hands, but only to assess their worth, scratch down their names and numbers, and send them on to the bright and exuberant city across the river. The ships he sends out into the world—the Eagle, the Calliope, the Lorenzo—cross and re-cross the globe, but Jonah Hancock himself, the stillest of men, falls asleep each night in the room in which he first drew breath.