Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Trowie Mound Murders - Marsali Taylor

I had hoped I'd manage to write about this before I went on holiday, that at least was the plan but it didn't quite work out, I even took my laptop away with me along with good intentions to catch up on all manner of things. Happily it wouldn't work so instead I had a lazy holiday with lots of reading rather than mindless browsing on amazon and lost hours on twitter. 'The Trowie Mound Murders' have been another outing for my phone in kindle mode - it's an occasionally handy app but not a way of reading I particularly like - particularly now that I come to write about the book as the phone app isn't great for trying to find bits for reference. Price wise however the kindle option wins here (£2.49 as opposed to £12.99 and I know it shouldn't be about price but if you're looking to take a chance on a relatively unknown writer it helps - this is one you should take a chance on.)

As I mentioned in the last post Marsali used to teach me, it feels a little bit odd to be commenting about her writing - but I'm going to do it anyway. This is her second novel and the second to feature Cass Lynch as the heroine who isn't quite a detective, both are set in Shetland and have a nautical theme. The first book is Death on a Longhsip (also a kindle bargain) which both myself and D enjoyed though I would say that it does that first novel thing where everything gets thrown into it and some of it's a bit distracting from the action. In the best second book tradition 'The Trowie Mound Murders' improves on everything.

Cass is teaching local children to sail over the summer whilst she considers her options, the plan is to go to college in the autumn to get the qualification she needs to skipper tall ships but the idea of going back to school is rather daunting for a woman who's been footloose and fancy free for the last decade or more. Anders (the very attractive Norwegian) is still sharing her boat and the dust is generally settling after the events of the previous book. One evening a couple of yachts moor in the same marina and is as is the general way everyone falls into conversation. One of the couples don't seem to be quite legit, there are odd things about their boat and they ask a lot of questions without giving anything away about themselves, and then the other couple disappear in an odd way. Cass feels compelled to inform the coast guard and she also lets her old adversary DI Gavin Macrae know there's something odd afoot too. Gavin turns up post haste - he's another possible complication for Cass, there's a definite attraction between them but would he be another unwelcome tie to a land bound life?

Meanwhile all sorts of undercurrents are detectable behind the net curtains of Shetlands croft houses, there are hints of art theft, smuggling, drug trafficking , and a possible porn ring. In real life Shetland has a reassuringly low crime rate but the black fish scandal a couple of years ago suggests that a certain piratical Viking spirit is alive and thriving. There are a couple of dodgy local characters here and they feel absolutely authentic - there's a real sense of menace about these guys but it's nuanced too but then just generally I felt it all hung together really well. Cass calling the coastguard when she does is responsible behaviour, when she gets to close to the crime it's a feasible accident that she should do so, and a set piece where it looks like it might end very badly for her is truly chilling. And as for the murders, it was quite bad luck on the murderers part that they didn't get away with it - they almost could have...

Easily a character in it's own right is Shetland, it's landscape, sea ways, and history are integral to the plot as is it's language (there's a handy glossary at the back for dialect words) which really gives a sense of the place. I really like books with a strong sense of place so it's another element that scores for me here. On the basis of this I'm really excited about the next book, it's going to be fun seeing what Cass does next.

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