Scottish Island Fiction
Scottish islands – or really any islands – can provide the ideal setting for a murder/mystery/thriller novel, the remoteness and inaccessibility adding excitement and uncertainty to the overall suspense. A brilliant storm can disconnect island inhabitants from the outside world by severing communication and prohibiting sea and air travel. The local law enforcement officials may be dealing with a crisis, but sorry, reinforcements can’t reach you. And, of course, they’re trapped on an island with the villain. It is really sort of ideal in a world where just about everybody has a cell phone and are therefore “connected” at all times. In most contemporary suspense novels there is usually a point in the climax where the protagonist is trying to elude some evil doer – they look at their phone and – “oh no, no bars” or “damn, I forgot to charge it”, – but someday we’ll have self-charging phones and network service everywhere. What are writers going to do then? Islands! Yeah, just kidding.
NONE BUT THE DEAD is set on the island of Sanday – a real island in the Scottish Orkney Islands. This novel gives mention to many historical landmarks that actually exist on this island. I have read many books where the author has chosen to invent an island to provide a backdrop for evil, murder, and mayhem but this one is quite authentic.
This is the twelve book in the “Rhona Macleod forensic scientist” series and I’ll admit right now that this is the first entry I have read. Most of the series is set in Glasgow but the team is sent to Sanday when a construction project uncovers bones. The owner of the project is converting an old schoolhouse into a home and he also finds strange fabric flowers in the attic. The local historian takes one look at one of the flowers and becomes extremely distressed. Vandalism at the dig site makes it apparent that someone doesn’t want the authorities digging into the past. The police are already overwhelmed, but then a young girl goes missing and a huge storm hits the island.
The Orkney Islands (like the Shetland Islands) are north of Scotland and have a greater Scandinavian influence than the Hebrides. The location made Sanday a good location for a military outpost during World War ll: the remains of the outpost figure in the story.
This novel has all the elements that make Scottish Island mysteries so effective and I was not disappointed. The characters were fine but I wasn’t enthralled enough to be tempted by previous volumes. There was also one coincidence in this novel that I found a little farfetched, but it is an excellent mystery/thriller especially for fans of Scottish Island books.
NONE BUT THE DEAD by Lin Anderson (2016), MacMillan, 419 pages
“As far as I’m concerned, you can’t beat a good whodunnit: the twists and turns, the clues and the red herrings, and then, finally, the satisfaction of having everything explained to you in a way that makes you kick yourself because you hadn’t seen it from the start.” page 4
This is the quintessential quote about whodunnits and it expresses exactly how I feel. They’re not just about reading; they’re a game, a puzzle, an experience. My adoration of whodunnits directed me to this novel because it promises, not one, but two whodunnits in a single book. What could be better than that! There has been a lot of buzz around this novel and it even made the list as one of Oprah’s favourites of the year. That said, I typically don’t write about such “High profile” books, mostly because there are about a gazillion reviews out there already – do we really need another? No, yet here I go.
I’ll start by saying that I’ve never read an ANTHONY HOROWITZ book in my life until now, but I am still a big fan of his. But, how can that be? Well, this talented man has written and/or created some of my favourite tv shows of all time. He wrote many of the scripts for the first year of “Poirot”, “Midsomer Murders” and “Foyles War.” I am a Canadian but I subscribe to a special channel so I can receive these programs. And isn’t it nice to watch a show where every single character does not look like a Barbie or a Ken Doll – yeah I’m talking about you American tv. When you read this book you will notice that these shows are mentioned often. The title of the book (within the book) is MAGPIE MURDERS but the publisher complains that it sounds too much like MIDSOMER MURDERS. The novel even contains guest stars (yeah guest stars just like tv) with Agatha Christie’s grandson making an appearance in a couple of the chapters.
The novel begins with Susan Ryeland, the editor of a small but successful publishing house, getting cozy with the intention of reading the first transcript of a novel from her most successful writer. Then we are introduced to the novel – Magpie Murders – and the reader is transported to an English Village circa 1955, and an eccentric detective named Atticus Pünd. This is classic English village mystery literature. Just as the detective is about to gather his suspects and announce the murderer – the novel ends because the last chapters are missing. And…the second mystery begins.
This is certainly an homage to Dame Christie and the other writers of the golden age of mysteries. A modern whodunnit in the old style – you know – no tracking people with cell phones or catching the murderer on cctv. All the clues are there so just get comfortable and enjoy the experience- it really is a fun book.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, 2016, HarperCollins Publishers, 236 pages
Dr. Ruth Galloway Mystery #9
This is the ninth entry in the Dr. Ruth Galloway mysteries and it is an impressive and multifaceted novel. We were introduced to Ruth, a forensic archeologist, in THE CROSSING PLACES (2009) where she helped the police solve a very perplexing case involving a missing child. Many of the characters, from that first entry, are still a part of Ruth’s world. As an expert on bones, she is frequently asked to assist the police and she often works with DCI Harry Nelson. They have a complicated relationship – — COMPLICATED!
When bones are found in an underground work site, Ruth is enlisted to determine their age. She is horrified to report that the bones look as if they have been boiled and they appear to be modern. The investigation reveals a network of tunnels under the town – perhaps the remnants of old chalk mines.
At the same time, the police have a missing persons case involving a homeless lady but few people take notice until a new case develops where a middle class mother disappears after her school run. Suddenly it’s big news. The themes of underground societies and the plight of the homeless are consistent throughout the novel.
Ruth has some personal issues as well but I won’t discuss them here because it would be a spoiler for readers who want to start the series at book 1 (Crossing Places). I always like to read a series in order, but of course , that is a personal choice. The novel ends with some startling information about one of the characters.
THE CHALK PIT by Elly Griffiths (2017) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 358 pages
Elly Griffiths has a second series known as the Stephens and Mephesto Mysteries. The third book is available in the U.K. but here (in Canada) we have to wait until September.
This is a novel I read about a year ago and I loved it – so why has it taken me so long to put this review to paper? That’s a great question, and the nearest I can come to an answer is to say that I just didn’t feel like I could do it justice. This is terrific crime novel featuring a current case and two cold cases but it is also so much more… Some readers will appreciate the trip down memory lane to the eighties, the clothes and music, it brings it back. Other readers might be anticipating the resolutions of the three main cases. But for me – well – I have to admit I just love the way the author nailed “the nature of memory” It doesn’t hurt to have a likable (though flawed) protagonist with a sense of humour that is pointed, yet considerate of the difficult subject material.
This is fiction although it was loosely based on a true crime that happened in another year.
In this imagined account of the summer of 1986, Oklahoma City is rocked by two tragedies. A botched burglary at a local movie theater ends with the murder of six young employees, and a few months later a young teenager disappears at a local fair. Neither crime is solved.
Wyatt was sixteen that summer and inexplicably he was the only survivor at the theater massacre. It changed him forever: he moved away, changed his name and never looked back.
Julianna is the sister of the missing teenager. Unlike Wyatt, she stayed in Oklahoma where she obsessively tried to unravel the mystery of her missing sibling. The evening her sister disappeared has never left her mind.
It is 26 years later in 2012 and Wyatt is a private investigator in Las Vegas. A friend asks him to take a case in Omaha (as a favour— double pay) and Wyatt grudgingly accepts. Oops! What the friend meant to say was Oklahoma, and soon Wyatt finds himself heading back to a place he has avoided for 26 years. And he starts to remember things about that summer. This is where the author is brilliant at showing how the five senses trigger memory – and this is a guy who doesn’t want to remember. As soon as he sees the city skyline his stomach clenches. The scent after the rain, the taste of the food, the sounds unique to this city; they generate the memories of that summer and he is soon asking himself why was I the only survivor?
But memories can be fickle companions and Julianne is not having much luck remembering the night her sister vanished. Until…
This is a tremendous story that is well told and meaningful. A true gem – and there must be folks who agree with me because it has won a few awards ( among them an Edgar.)
The Long and Far Away Gone, 2015, HarperCollins, 454 pages