Review by Helen McIver
I have been missing Scotland lately, after a planned trip was cancelled. I wouldn’t have read Diana Gabaldon’s new book if I hadn’t been going over soon (even though the Scots are in America now, fighting in the revolution). I am in Vermont where I am often reminded of the Scottish hills/Bonnie braes and Highlands albeit without the heather. A delightful summer tea at the Perennial Gardens had Scottish breakfast tea on the menu (and described as a brisk broken leaf tea with spine stiffening qualities; really, how could I resist?) Pipes are often heard as there is a long heritage here. Recent guy dreich weather (stormy, rainy, cloudy, chilly) has felt like northern Scotland. And then a wee trip to my library brought home an old friend, the latest in a Scottish mystery series by AD Scott. Beneath the Abbey Wall and The Low Road, are the fourth and fifth installment of this saga set in the 1950s in the Great Glen. It is easily recognisable to me (not that different from my 1980s, but rapid change in the last 20 years makes this a reminisce).
I find these to be detailed mysteries dependent on character, personality development and sense of place. There is a wonderful use of language (vocabulary, colloquialisms, and proverbs) which I miss (thrawn, dwam, dreich, corrie, neb) characteristic of local authors (and Scott is from the Highlands, although she now lives in Vietnam and Australia). Her books explore the transformation of rural Scotland, the restrictions of small town life, with a common thread of loyalty. You will be immersed in another culture and another time.
There are many characters in this town and these stories. I am delighted to be reacquainted with them as we follow their growth, changes, challenges and trials. Murder never brings out the best, but life in the Highlands has always been full of strife, never forgotten. Mrs Archibald Smart was murdered (née Joyce Mackenzie) and it is her story that is the mystery that once again involves the Tinkers (especially a favourite character of mine, Jenny McPhee). Joyce was the incomparable office manager of the Highland Gazette (and yet we know hardly anything about her, from the previous novels). McAllister is the newspaper editor who is trying to make changes to the local paper while also favouring a new reporter Joanne Ross (we met her earlier, moving on from an abusive marriage; acceptable now, impossible then). Neil Stewart provides a stark contrast as a young Canadian over to do research, but also in search of his birth mother. I haven’t quite recovered from the urban depiction of Glasgow slums in The Low Road, but absolutely adored McAllister’s mum.
If you like Ian Rankin, PD James, or Peter Robinson mysteries, you will like these.
4 stars with the continuing story line (and the next installment is being written).
The opening line:
“Ten past nine on a mid-September night. Everything in the town was tight shut. Including the sky. It must have known it was the Sabbath.”
“But this Sunday, winter gave advance notice with a gray drench-damp cold shroud, covering the town and mountains spiced up with a steady nor’easterly straight off the North Sea that sent even the seagulls inland. It seemed a fitting day to end in death.”
“She had never met a man who was not Scottish.”
“GlenFarclas 110 proof, a whisky he called the Lazarus cure.”
“In order to borrow two books of fiction, two books of nonfiction had to be checked out.”