Sunday, September 16, 2012

Death On A Longship - Marsali Taylor

My stock of prohibition era American novels has all but run out leaving me a little bit bereft, so it was a timely visit from the postman when he dropped off a parcel containing 'Death On A Longship' which I've been anticipating for a while and which has broken my gangster obsession.

Marsali Taylor was my English teacher in junior high school, she also taught us French, Drama, and was the woman responsible for my Georgette Heyer habit. I had absolutely no aptitude for French despite her best efforts but she had a definite - and much more effective - influence on my reading life so it's really interesting to see what her own book is like. 

This is also only the second time I've had my hands on a novel written by somebody I know and it definitely has an effect on how I approach a book - I find it makes me much more critical, there's also a nagging fear that I won't like what I have in front of me and whilst with most books that's not something I worry about this time I really wanted to enjoy it. Happily for me I did which makes writing this blog a whole lot easier.

As the title suggests 'Death On A Longship' is a murder mystery, and as it's the first in a series I'll start with the heroine. Cass Lynch is almost 30 and sailing obsessed. She ran away to see at the age of 16 and has never really looked back. Originally from Shetland a job skippering a replica Viking longship for a film crew takes her back home for the first time in almost 15 years. There is a past to come to terms with so it's something of a fraught return further complicated by Cass's father having started a new relationship with a girl her own age who isn't necessarily delighted to have Cass back in the picture. Bridges are being built when Cass finds a corpse which at first she takes to be the girlfriend before realising it's her film star sister. Everything gets very personal very quickly and isn't looking good for Cass or her family.

Cass is an easy character to like. She's a sailing obsessed loner which means that she has to be resourceful, observant, well able to sum up a character that she might get stuck on a boat with, and cool in a crisis - all handy characteristics when you find yourself with a dead body at 4 in the morning. I liked that Cass is almost 30 - it feels like the right time for her to be building bridges between her past and possible future and the way that's done is a real strength in this book - as it's part of a series it'll also be really interesting to see how that develops.

Shetland is itself a significant character in the book. The landscape is always present and that's another thing I liked - books with a strong sense of place generally do appeal to me. There's also quite a bit about current local issues, especially wind farms, which made me wonder if they were going to feature in future books, it also makes me think as someone with local connections that it'll be interesting to come back to 'Death On A Longship' in a few years time and assess what's happened since. It's a very vivid snapshot of Island life as it is now.

The boats in the book are significant too, and rightly so. The Scottish one took me to Islay early in our relationship where quite by chance we saw Sea Stallion on  her way from Norway to Ireland. Watching that square sail on the horizon swept away a thousand years of history leaving stories about Viking invaders up-most in my mind, it was a real surprise when later in the day that's almost exactly what it turned out to be. Those boats invite stories in much the same way as haunted houses do - they just feel built for them.  

The murder mystery element is entirely satisfactory with a few twists along the way that kept me guessing as to who and why. There's only one victim which I also really approve of, I don't much care for a huge body count, this murder is made quite horrible enough by the realisation that a life has been taken for no good reason - always worth remembering when it comes to murder. 'Death On A Longship' has been published by @ttica, primarily I think as an ebook although hard copies are available here. I recommend it for anyone who likes an atmospheric, character based mystery - I'm already looking forward to the next in the series.  

Marsali will be doing a guest post here tomorrow with a chance to win prizes so please do come and have a look.

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