You’re going to get a few reviews in the future that come under the category of “Look What I Got For My Kindle For Less Than £1”. I’m well aware that there is a large amount of self-published fiction out there of, shall we say, questionable quality, but this doesn’t tick that box.
Shirley McKay has written, to date, three novels in the Hew Cullan series. Hew is a native of St Andrews, but has been abroad for a number of years. He returns to explain to his father that he has chosen not to become an advocate in the courts, only to find himself involved in a double murder. His old college friend stands accused of both of the crimes, but is lying at death’s door, unable to defend himself.
Will Hew rise to the challenge and try and defend his friend? Well, of course he will, it would be a short book if he didn’t, but can he succeed when people are plotting against his friend left, right and centre? And even if he does, is it worth reading about?
It’s becoming clearer to me that I like historical mysteries that centre around big events. It’s harder for a book with an historical setting to grab my attention if it’s about people living in the past, rather than interacting with the events in the past. And despite a late appearance by King James of Scotland, this is certainly falls into that category.
It’s very well-written, skipping around the point of view of a number of characters, all with their own motivations, being brought vividly to life and there are three murders to keep the blood-thirsty occupied. It certainly kept my attention throughout and I’d recommend it to a fan of the historical novel.
The question, and sort of the point of the blog, is, would I recommend it to the fan of the classic mystery novel? A slightly more difficult question, but, unless you also like historicals, I’d have to say no.
The murderer(s?), while not completely obvious, are certainly not surprises. It’s a very logical conclusion, but there are no clever leaps in the logic. The one red herring is cleared of any involvements in the death too early for my tastes, and it does hit one of my personal alarm buttons by going on too long after the killer has been revealed. Also the murder plot does seem to get put on hold for a while in the central section of the novel.
In its defence though, it’s not that sort of book and doesn’t try to be. I can’t criticise it for not being what I want it to be – it’s an excellent example of a well-written, well-researched character piece – although I did find Hew Cullan, the central character, to be a bit of an enigma – one character even comments on it in a rather unsubtle “there’s going to be a sequel” line in the final chapter. That aside, there’s a lot of fascinating detail on sixteenth century medicine and law and there’s plenty here to like.
Just don’t expect a clever, twisty mystery.
Anyway, it’s currently on Amazon for 89p, and it’s more than worth that investment.