I can feel a new crime series starting: with The Strings of Murder, we not only encounter a blood-soaked Victorian mystery, but also two inspectors with, as we would say today, personal baggage, one a London snob who is slumming it in Edinburgh after having been kicked out of his job at Scotland Yard in the midst of a political intrigue and the other a local with a frightful family history. The mystery will be solved, after many more murders and twists, and I imagine the inspectors will make it to another book.
Every once in a while the historical details seem overdone, or the conversation is anachronistic (no teenagers in Victorian times!) but the overall effect is engrossing.
Rise is the fictional story of another kind of escape into the countryside, from sexual abuse into a small Scotland village. But there are no cliches about abusive relationships, no platitudes about small-town life, and, mercifully, no harangues about the Scottish independence vote, which is about to happen as a minor theme in the story. The story is thrilling but the focus is on the heroine and her complicated feelings and scheming as she burrows into a local family for protection, while the family is imploding, in part because of her actions. Even the ending is properly sober. Highly recommended!
A story from Scotland on a day important for Scotland!
The narrator of Closed Doors is a young boy whose mother is assaulted but will not go to the police because she is afraid that her small island community would ostracize her and her family. The writing is very good, but somehow it sounded just a little too precious to me. I did like how the author was able to convey the almost suffocating atmosphere of the closed-in island community, where getting along is more important, it seems, than one’s own survival.
Surprise! A novel by Alexander McCall Smith that is not part of an existing series, whether the legendary No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Isabel Dalhousie, or 44 Scotland Street series. Trains and Lovers takes place on a train, between Scotland and London, and brings together four people’s stories of love that went mostly wrong. I doubt that any train companions would talk so long and deep about their lives but novels are all about suspending disbelief, right, and the stories are engaging and tender, coming together in a pleasing whole rather than simply being four juxtaposed short stories. Another bonus is the story from Australia (Perth), a location that has figured in other Mc Call Smith’s books and is nicely highlighted here. Nicely done and charming, although no more than that.
TransAtlantic is an ambitious family saga that melds Ireland and New York, the early beginnings of aviation and the abolition of slavery, but unfortunately the strands never manage to braid properly, at least for me. We are left with great individual stories (that of Senator Mitchell, who negotiated the Good Friday accords, as well as that of Lily Duggan, an illiterate Irish maid fleeing the potato famine), complex, interesting characters (especially the women characters, Lily and her descendants), and a multitude of well-observed details (for instance Frederick Douglass’s observations as a black man in Ireland) but they remain as frustrating islands for an end result that could have been so much more.
Let’s start with what I did not like about The Blackhouse. I did not like the last 50 pages, where the Deus Ex Machinae (or, in this case, the Devil Ex Machinae, or the Devils, plural, Ex Machinae) suddenly descended to solve the mystery with utter disregard for the careful narrative so far. The rest of the book I found breathtaking, not so much the mystery, although it holds its own until those accursed last 50 pages, but more the landscape of the Isle of Lewis, whose wind stings our skin from the first chapter, and the wonderful character of the detective, who grew up on the island and rediscovers his childhood friends when he is sent there to investigate a murder that resembles one on the mainland. The story is told in alternating chapters between his childhood and the present, and satisfyingly so.
I must note that two key scenes take place as the Lewis islanders go hunting for gannet chicks on a rocky island — which figured in The Old Ways, recently reviewed here. And I can’t resist mentioning that this mystery thoughtfully includes a map of the island, which was sorely missing in the other one.