In the 1950s, the murder of a boy shocks a Scottish town still reeling from the devastations of World War II and rife with resentment of outsiders. This is the first book in a suspense series set in the Scottish Highlands, where the author was born and raised.
The daughters of Joanne Ross, typist for The Highland Gazette, mischievously ring doorbells and run, but when they coax little Jamie to play their game, he disappears and later turns up dead. The coroner’s examination shows that the boy had been “interfered with” prior to death. Meanwhile, visions of a hoodie crow, a nightmarish, folkloric figure said to peck out the eyes of newborn lambs, haunt Joanne’s youngest. It seems her daughters were the last to see “wee Jamie.” Indeed, their imaginations have created the crow from the shadowy figure they saw take their classmate. The night of the murder, a Pole jumped ship in the harbor and was aided by a Polish immigrant engaged to the daughter of a local Italian immigrant family, as well as by the Tinkers, the traveling people of Scotland, used to being regarded with suspicion. Prejudice and xenophobia make the Pole the prime suspect, and it appears he’ll be condemned on circumstantial evidence. This doesn’t sit well for several Highland Gazette staffers, especially veteran journalist McAllister. McAllister indulges his hunches, journalistic and otherwise, to turn up another suspect, the town priest who ran a boxing club for boys back in Glasgow. Meanwhile, Joanne, coping with an abusive, alcoholic spouse, tries to make sense of her youngest daughter’s terrified outbursts at the sight of any resemblance to the hoodie crow, outbursts that appall the religiously stolid townies. By the time Joanne and McAllister realize the girls actually are critical witnesses, they’ve clammed up. The story is a twisted tangle with sometimes unsubstantiated forensics, and it’s a bit of a stretch that the girls’ status as important witnesses goes largely ignored. But this mystery is a delight to unravel, with its lively dialect-spouting players, inhabiting a lavishly described, forbidding but beautiful landscape.
A rollicking, cozy escapade, too lighthearted to call Tartan noir.