S is for Scotland

Kilmuir on the Black Isle, Scotland

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In A Double Death on the Black Isle by A. D. Scott, Scotland is as much a character as the actual people. In the 1950s it’s a beautiful country in transition, the ancient feudal system is crumbling, women are finding their own places in the world, but old prejudices and beliefs still exist.

Joanne Ross, a still-learning reporter, has a tough life as a single mother working to support her two girls after leaving her abusive husband. She can’t divorce him, because of the scandal that would surely ensue, and can’t keep him away from herself or the girls. Then there’s her “friend,” Patricia Ord Mackenzie who is pregnant and marries a the father, a fisherman who is definitely below her class. Her family are upper class, wealthy landowners, and her mother is furious with her choice.

Now in the same day, two men die on the Black Isle. Patricia’s husband is killed in a fall on the same day Fraser Munro, the reviled son of Patricia’s farm manager, is found dead in a ditch near the home farm. Two Tinker lads (think Gypsies) who were involved in a brawl with Fraser stand accused of manslaughter. Patricia, by contrast, is the only one who was in the vicinity of the water fall when her husband died,  but is cleared of any suspicion and quite happy to be rid of her husband. Joanne and her fellow staff of the Highland Gazette are always on the lookout for a scoop, but two unexpected deaths in one day are an embarrassment of riches. Ambitious reporter Rob, young, cocky and charming, is especially suspicious of the death of Patricia’s husband. Working together like members of a family, the newspaper staff investigate the two deaths as shocking new evidence is revealed.

I love the women in this story. In a male-dominated world, it’s the women who take center stage, who drive the plot. Joanne and Patricia are both strong, determined women. Joanne is trying to make it on her own, and Patricia is not shy about manipulating any man she can to get what she wants. Patricia’s smart though, an excellent famr owner who truly knows what she’s talking about. Patricia’s mom is  a tough cookie, too, trying to hold onto the old way of life, while the world around her changes. Jenny McPhee is a Tinker, the matriarch of a group that has been looked down on for ages, but is needed at harvest time. I wish we had seen more of her. She’s wise and knows more than she should. If anyone had a touch of magic in this story, and they don’t, but if they did it would be her.

The plot is well-crafted, but real. People’s motives are not all straight and to the point. The bad guy is not obvious and one of the deaths is not tied up in a neat little bow at the end. Real life can be messy. Scott’s book is more than a just a whodunnit though. She explores family loyalty, mother-daughter relationships, difficulties faced by women in a “man’s world.” She immerses us in Scotland of the era, the landscape, the mindset, the lives of the everyday people and the gentry.

This is the second book in the Highland Gazette series, but I don’t feel like I missed anything by not reading the first. The characters are true, fully-developed people, the women mentioned above, the Tinker family, the staff at the Gazette are all fleshed out. The plot flows smoothly and, as always, I didn’t know who the killer was, although I should have, maybe. I’ll definitely be reading the next when it comes out.

I’m going to be passing this book on to someone who I hope enjoys it. It’s one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to mystery lovers, especially those looking for something out of the ordinary. It’s one to get lost in.

4½ out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery

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Highland Gazette #2
Published September 27, 2011 by Atria
359 pages

Book source: For review

The A-Z Challenge is hosted at its own blog.

Highland Gazette Series

  1. A Small Death in the Great Glen
  2. A Double Death on the Black Isle

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