This is the 8th book in the Shetland sailing mysteries series, which I'm somewhat behind with - but it's given me the push to catch up. As the kind of person who will check a couple of chapters in to see how a book ends and who doesn't mind spoilers, I find there's a lot to be said for coming back into a series with several books behind the one I'm reading. It turns out I'm often more interested in what has happened than what's going to happen.
I don't think it's an unfair observation to say that Marsali Taylor has come on a lot as a writer since 'Death on a Longship' either (although it feels a bit weird to talk about her work at all because she was once my English teacher, and a really good one at that). The characters feel properly established, and as heroine Cass Lynch is now a good bit older and considering her long term future I find myself much more in sympathy with her as she negotiates her relationship with Gavin the Policeman.
When I last read one of these Cass was still working towards getting her sailing qualifications, she's now second mate on the Sørlandet, a Norwegian tall ship, currently in dry dock which is why she's back in Shetland, and undertaking a favour to a friend by helping look after his elderly cousin - a bad fall has left her with a broken hip, and the family are circling, scenting an inheritance in the offing.
Tamar might be in her 90's but she's sharp as a tack, which is just as well because she has more than her fair share of secrets to guard. She and Cass hit it off immediately, but at the same time a body has turned up on the beach below some nearby cliffs. It looks like it might not have been an accident, it also looks like somebody tried to break into Tamar's house about the same time as the man on the beach must have died. The last thing Cass wants is to be involved in another murder and she tries her hardest to stay out of this one, but things keep happening.
I'm more of a classic crime fan than a contemporary mystery woman, and reading this now I think someone is going to have a tremendous treat when they find a dusty secondhand copy in 70 years time - they will get such a vivid picture of life in Shetland in the early 2020's. One detail I particularly liked is how Taylor describes various car journeys - they are roads I'm familiar with which gives them a particular resonance, but even without that link there's something really evocative about them.
As previously mentioned, Cass's changing priorities are compelling as well, as is her relationship with Gavin. Romances in ongoing detective series can be a bit dodgy (from Dorothy L. Sayers onwards) but this is perfect. It's enough to show another side to Cass, and their interactions are sweet, but they don't dominate the action or get in the way. Cass's other big relationship is with Shetland, and her status there is also handled sensitively. The difficulties of being from a place but not entirely native to it are touched on in a way that suggests interesting problems to be resolved in future books.
And the biggest compliment for this book? Mum saw me reading it and wants to borrow it asap, and after I described the sailing content to my partner he's interested as well. It's not that often that my family want to share my reading with this much enthusiasm.