Columbine: The first book about Fred the mermaid loses no time in establishing that this is a series aimed at more mature readers, with its crude references to mating and its frequent salty language. It is that curious hybrid, a modern romance novel.

Fred (Frederica really) is a rather gruff, graceless heroine. No sitting on rocks and singing in the moonlight for her. At 29, a marine biologist working at the aquarium in Boston, she is not looking for love. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to come knocking.

Fred has known that she is a mermaid most of her life – the kind that has legs on land, as it seems is usual for merpeople in this particular fantasy world. As well as the tail, her mermaid heritage has given her green hair and made her super-strong. It also enables her to speak to the fish telepathically, which is handy in her work, although they can be rather demanding.

Sleeping with the Fishes opens with an embarassing conversation between Fred and her parents. Both her parents are fully human, so it comes as no surprise to her to learn that her biological father was just a passing fancy of her mother’s, who just happened to walk out of the sea one day. It came as a surprise to me that she hadn’t bothered to find out before she was 29, but I suppose that’s because she’s generally so taciturn and self-involved.

Her best friend Jonas is the only one outside the family who knows her secret, until she is spotted in the aquarium tank by a new colleague working late. Fortunately Thomas adores mermaids. Though he’s not too keen on Prince Artur of the Black Sea, a merman who claims Fred as his subject, but that’s probably just rivalry over Fred.

The two of them insist that Fred joins them in their endeavour to discover the cause of the pollution in Boston Harbour. Which turns out to be quite disgusting, by the way – though I cannot see how it drew Prince Artur to Boston, as it seems too local a matter. It is a familiar plotline too – fairy and human teaming up against the wicked developers.

This should be a light and entertaining read, but it’s not really. Or not for everyone. Even overlooking the crudity and “ickiness”, the plot is too thin and unconvincing, and the characters generally unlikeable.

Swimming without a Net, the second book in the series, is set partly in the Caymans, where Fred the mermaid finally meets more of her kind, and I’m not sure she’ll like what she sees. It’s hard to please that girl. Prince Artur and the “water-fellow” Thomas are still hanging around, and Fred is still undecided whether to be romantic with either of them. (yawn)

The big question of the book is – should merpeople, of whom we learned there are about a million worldwide, go on leading a secret existence or proclaim themselves to the world in the interest of saving the oceans? Surely humans wouldn’t continue to foul the waters if they knew people, even if somewhat fishy, were living in them? Hmmm…

If you liked the first book, you might bother reading this one – unlike me…

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