A young woman on the run from a vicious pursuer, a troubled marriage, a man tormented by a sneering ghost, and the fight to save a sacred landscape from development are the ingredients in a Scottish author's impressive U.S. debut.
Written in striking, often imaginative prose yet paced as immediately as a thriller, Campbell's novel hits the ground running as Justine Strang flees Glasgow on a bus to anywhere, with a stash of stolen money stuffed in her clothes. Desperate to escape from Charlie Boy, whose terrifying marks can be seen on her young flesh, Justine abruptly alights at Kilmacarra, a village in an ancient glen filled with standing stones. Local councilor Michael Anderson's political career hangs on his ability to push through the installation of a wind farm here, while his wife, Hannah, is part of the campaign to stop it. Wracked by Hannah's earlier betrayal of their marriage, Michael believes himself hounded by an apparition that mocks all he holds dear. But a sudden meeting with Justine clears his mind, and soon, she's hired as the Andersons’ nanny. Meanwhile, politicians are busy behind the scenes, archaeologists are excavating the stones, and Charlie Boy could show up at any time. Campbell’s deft handling of this busy scenario is marked by wit and a strong commitment to the Scottishness of her material, reflected in the language ("trauchle," "crannogs," "smirred," and so on) and her obvious love for Kilmacarra's history and landscape. There are soft spots, including a caricatured Spanish businessman and a convenient love interest, but little hinders the gathering force of the storytelling, with its ground-shifting dash to the finish line.
An engaging writer introduces herself with this fresh, intelligent entertainment, full of satisfying moving parts.