Day 1270: Red Bones

Cover for Red BonesHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge!

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In this third book of Ann Cleeves’s Shetland series, Sandy Wilson, an officer at the Lerwick station, is visiting his parents on Whalsay Island when he discovers the dead body of his grandmother, Mima. The death appears to be an accident. A neighbor out hunting may have hit her in the dark. But what was she doing outside in the first place at that time of night?

Jimmy Perez comes over briefly to look into the death, but although he feels something is wrong, he has no evidence to indicate that anything different has happened. After he returns to Lerwick, though, he gets a call from Hattie, an archaeology student working on a dig on Mima’s property. She says she must talk to him and asks him to return. When he gets back, she too is dead of an apparent suicide.

To Jimmy, it just doesn’t make sense that she would make an appointment with him and then commit suicide. In fact, most people who knew her said she seemed happier than usual.

Jimmy is waiting for carbon dating of some old bones found on the site. But he begins to feel that the island is full of secrets.

This was another good mystery in the Shetland series. The series has an appealing detective and an evocative setting. I’m enjoying it.

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Day 1259: Closed Doors

Cover for Closed DoorsBest of Five!
I loved The Death of Bees, so recently I looked to see if Lisa O’Donnell had written anything else. Closed Doors did not disappoint.

The action of the novel, set in the 1980’s, begins when eleven-year-old Michael Murray’s mother comes home with cuts and bruises on her face. She says she’s been assaulted by a flasher and fell. Mike’s Da urges her to go to the police, but his Ma is worried about the vicious gossip in their small island community off the coast of Scotland. She makes the family promise to keep her secret (which, we sense, is worse than a flasher), but the neighbors all assume that Michael’s Da beat her up.

The ramifications of the lie continue with strained relationships with the neighbors. Then, another woman is assaulted. Now, Michael’s Ma is afraid she won’t be believed because she waited so long to talk. In the meantime, she suffers from anxiety and fear of being touched or looked at.

Michael’s voice is absolutely convincing as a naive boy who doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. This book is sometimes harrowing, but it is also touching and funny. Another great book for O’Donnell.

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Day 1254: White Nights

Cover for White NightsIn the small settlement of Biddista, isolated from the rest of Mainland Island of the Shetlands, an art opening is taking place. Detective Jimmy Perez is surprised by how few people attend. It is summertime, the white nights, and lots of tourists are on the island. His friend Fran is showing her work, but so is the famous artist Bella Sinclair. Further, Bella’s even more famous nephew, Roddy Sinclair, is performing.

In the gallery, there is a small scene. A man falls to his knees and begins weeping. When Jimmy takes him to the kitchen, he says he can’t remember anything. He has no identifying information on him. When Jimmy leaves the room to see if he brought a bag, he disappears.

The next morning, Kenny Thomson, a nearby crofter, finds the body of a man hanging in his fish house. Bizarrely, the body is wearing a mask. Jimmy soon identifies the body as the man he spoke to the night before. No one knows who he is, however. Jimmy discovers that a masked man was handing out flyers in Lerwick stating that the gallery show was cancelled, thus explaining the low attendance.

Why would this man have pulled such a malicious trick on Fran and Bella? Both women claim not to recognize him. In the meantime, Inspector Taylor is coming from the mainland to take over the case.

Almost immediately, I felt that this case was connected to the disappearance long ago of Kenny’s brother Laurence. I wondered, for example, if the dead man could be Laurence returned. Rumor had it that Bella rejected him all those years back, and that’s why he left.

But Cleeves completely had me fooled about the identity of the murderer. This is a really clever mystery, and I enjoyed it.

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Day 1247: The Return of John McNab

Cover for The Return of John McNabAndrew Greig seems to like to base his novels on Scottish texts, legends, or history, and The Return of John McNab is no exception. This novel is a reworking of a classic novel by John Buchan, John McNab.

I am not familiar with this novel, but I got the idea right away. In the original, three men announce they are going to go poaching, that is, catch a salmon, shoot a grouse, and shoot a stag on three different estates and deliver the game to the grounds of the estate. (I know this isn’t the proper Brit terminology. I’m using “estate” in its American meaning of a large property owned by a wealthy person.) This wager is meant as a protest against the ownership and use of large portions of land in the Highlands for only a few wealthy people. These men call themselves John McNab.

Neil Lindores proposes to do the same thing, aided by his friends Murray Hamilton and Alasdair Sutherland. He does not count, however, on attracting the attention of Kirsty Fowler, a local journalist.

With plenty of close calls, the adventure begins, but the men’s final target is Balmoral. The Prince of Wales is in residence, and the security people are apt to believe that the well-publicized challenge is a threat hidden within a stunt.

This novel is an earlier book by Greig. It is entertaining enough, but it does not feature the brilliance of some of his later works. It’s strictly an adventure/romance novel.

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Day 1242: Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary

Cover for Lady Rose and Mrs MemmaryLady Rose and Mrs Memmary is an odd little book. It shows its naive heroine in the grip of Romanticism until she learns what the real world is like.

The novel begins in the 1930’s, when it was written. A couple and their friend are touring the area and come upon Keepsfield, a beautiful old Scottish house, which is available to let. They ask if they can tour the house and are taken around by Mrs Memmary, the old caretaker. As they tour the house, Helen Dacre gets Mrs Memmary to tell her about the life of Lady Rose, the Countess of Lochule, who owns the house.

Lady Rose has been brought up on stories of Rob Roy and Mary, Queen of Scots, and Bonnie Prince Charlie. She is an extremely romantic and enthusiastic girl from a life of privilege but not luxury, the daughter of an Earl. Her parents make no bones during her debut in 1873 that their job is to marry her to a man of equal fortune and position in society.

We see little vignettes of Lady Rose’s life from the age of six until she marries Sir Hector Galowrie when she is seventeen. Her parents don’t pay attention, however, to the idea of matching Rose in temperament.

By the time the visitors appear at the house, much has changed for the aristocracy of England and Scotland. The owners of fine mansions can no longer afford to live in them. This is the story of the attitudes of her peers once Lady Rose decides she has done her duty, but it is also the story of the fall of the aristocracy.

For such messages, the novel is written in an extremely sentimental style, with gushing descriptions of the house and landscape and chapters ending in poetry. I don’t think it is altogether successful, but it is interesting as a document of the times.

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Day 1214: When They Lay Bare

Cover for When They Lay BareA mysterious woman moves into the empty cottage on property belonging to Simon Elliot. She has with her a set of old plates depicting the verses of a ballad, and she spends a lot of time immersing herself in the story told by the plates. The thing is, this cottage was last occupied by Jinny Lauder, and the plates were hers. And Jinny Lauder was Sim Eliot’s lover, the woman he was tried for murdering.

So, who is this woman? Could she be Jinny’s daughter? Whoever she is, she seems half off her head, and she is clearly plotting revenge against Sim Elliot.

But the person she meets is Sim’s son, home in the Borderlands to introduce his father to his fiancée, Jo. David finds this wild girl, who first identifies herself as Mary, fascinating, and he is just as interested in his father’s guilt or innocence as Mary is. In fact, he despises his father for betraying his mother.

Greig used the conceit of retelling an ancient ballad in Fair Helen, an idea I really admired. Here again, he brings in an old ballad and the feuding families of the Borderlands, but I don’t think it works as well. In particular, the focus on the plates becomes tedious. After a while, each time the girl went back to look at the plates, I sighed.

Still, Greig’s writing is gorgeous, and his settings are evocative. Greig examines the concept of fate in this novel. Are the Elliots and Lauders doomed to pursue their feud?

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Day 1194: House. Tree. Person.

Cover for House. Tree. PersonI scented gaslighting very early on in Catriona McPherson’s newest cozy creepster, House. Tree. Person. That did not spoil my enjoyment.

Ali McGovern has a trauma in her past and hints of a nervous breakdown. Her family is in a precarious financial position, too, because her husband, Marco, used her successful salon to prop up his failing restaurant. So, they lost both. When Marco falsifies her credentials to get her a job at Howell Hall, a mental hospital, she goes along with it, thinking she won’t get the job. But she does.

She comes home after her first day at work to a different problem. Her fifteen-year-old son, Angelo, is implicated somehow in the discovery of a body on the grounds of an old abbey across the street from the McGovern’s flat. The police think he knows something about it. Marco seems to know what is going on, but neither Marco nor Angelo will tell her.

At work she meets a cheerful and supportive staff, but her boss, Dr. Ferris, finds fault with her slightest action. In a catatonic patient, Sylvia, Ali thinks she sees signs of consciousness. She also believes that something is going on with Julie, a teenage patient who claims she’s being held there against her will.

Catriona McPherson has become one of my favorite writers for suspenseful and spooky but light reading. Her characters are engaging, and she creates a strong sense of place in small-town Scotland. House. Tree. Person. is another page-turner from her.

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