Category Archives: Scotland

Murder of a Lady

Murder-of-a-lady

Murder of a Lady: a Scottish Mystery” by Anthony Wynne was published in 1931, but in many ways reads as if it were written fifty years earlier. It feels more of a contemporary piece with Wilkie Collins’ “The Moonstone” than with Agatha Christie or other Golden Age writers. Miss Gregor, the Lady of the title, is said to have preferred candles to oil lamps, having never got the hang of modern technology, and I was left wondering if the author preferred some of the language and phrasing of his Victorian forebears, even though he has adopted the pace of his contemporaries.

The story is set in Argyllshire, on the shores of Loch Fyne. The laird of Duchlan finds his sister dead at her bedside, in a locked room. He calls the police, but Dr Hailey, staying with a friend locally, has also had some experience in these matters, and is drawn in to the mysterious events at Duchlan Castle. The old lady is far from being the saint she was trying to be, instead taking a malicious interest in the lives of others, in particular that of her nephew and his wife Oonagh, and their young son.

There are plenty of twists in the tale, and Wynne is not afraid to let the body count rack up. There are decidedly modern parallels with the current crop of psychological thrillers, in that the psychology of the victim is investigated thoroughly, for, as Dr Hailey believes, if you fully understand the victim, you fully understand the murderer. There are plenty of digs against the Lowland Scots and the perception of the Highlanders as being prone to belief in the supernatural. And why is there a fish scale at the scene of the crime?

This is an admirable and skilful work of fiction. I hadn’t expected how much enjoyment I would extract from it, and provided one is feeling up to the Victorian turns of phrase, an excellent wet-weather read.

 

Island Noir

This week I’ve been reading another hang-over from 2016, “The Malice of Waves”, by Mark Douglas-Home. Whereas Peter May’s “The Coffin Road” was set on the real island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, this is set on a fictional island just south of Harris, Eilean Dubh. There’s a whole sub-genre of crime fiction set on Scottish islands, which seems to form a kind of half-way house between Scandinavian and UK crime fiction – i.e. remote (to the point of being exotic), with terrible weather, and a recognisably dour detective staring gloomily at the landscape/ corpse/ alienated relative but without the high body count of more urban areas.

That’s not to detract from “The Malice of Waves”, which features perhaps the first crime-solving oceanographer (though not the first in a series of Highly Specialised Scientists (HSS) who turn to detection – it started with pathologists (Cornwell) , then forensic anthropologists (Reichs), but has spread out to include archaeologists (Griffiths) and even forensic geologists (Andrews). Cal McGill, aka the “sea detective”, has been called in to track the likely path of the body of a teenager who went missing five years ago, but whose father continues to blame the local community. He bought a smaller island off the coast of Eilean Dubh, and felt sure that a resentful community was covering up the identity of the murderer.

Douglas-Home is excellent in creating a sense of claustrophobia and clannishness among the local inhabitants, whilst acknowledging the strengths of a small community. The issue of Scottish land rights is never far away, against a backdrop of the Highland Clearances, and the fear of landowners with the ability to turn out entire villages. The ending had both the simplicity and inevitability of a Greek tragedy, and augurs well for the future of this series.