An historical novel withancient  local legend mixed with country folk fears and a bit of magical overtones. Set in a small town on the Essex shore, where Cora Seaborne, a young widow, finds refuge after the death of her brutish husband. With Cora is her weird, compulsive 11 year-old son Felix and his nanny, the fiercely protective (to mother as well as son) Martha
Cora, intellectually curious and hpsycially restless, was a poor wife choice for the sadistic Seaborne. The marriage was anything but happy, but in Victoria times widowhood was hedged with .walls of habit and propriety. Cora leaves London to gfind some breathing space, and fetches up in the small village where the dedicated vicar, William Ransome, tends to his flock. Animprobably friendship - and perhaps more - grows between the bluestocking and the conservative vicar, notably over the 300 year old myth of the Essex Serpent, said to have taken the life of a young reveller on the beach just that previous New Years Eve.
The honest folk of the town fall prey to the fable, easy to believe in the moonless nights as the tide creeps in and out. Cora, with no inclination to either piety or lore, sets herself to unravel the mystery. She finds that nothing is at it seems.
The rapturous press this novel got is probably well deserved. The writing is superb, both clear and intricate in spots, and the characters are brilliantly drawn and realized. Cora is so "un-Victorian" as to make the actual time line of the book a bit fuzzy. Rather than bow to the fulsome praise of not only the publishing house but NPR and other trusted sources, I'll give it a 4.