One does not need to have read Cruel in the Shadow (1980), the first volume in this superior turn-of-the-century Scottish family saga, to ken that the household of Niall, laird of Invernevis, is a rum one. And Mary Rose--Niall's cool, lovely, feminist-minded bride--gets the picture right quick, once she arrives at the family seat. In an upstairs room, lying in filth, awash in drink, is Niall's defeated widowed mother; across the river is Niall's hated brother Alexander, playing peasant farmer and drinking up the money left to him by the late laird, a hard-drinking and lusting syphilitic. (Offstage this time is savage Aunt Carlotta, the religious fanatic and closet lesbian who caused the death of Niall's adored retarded sister Laura.) But Mary Rose isn't daunted: she'll try to set things to rights and be a New Woman. She does see that Mother is bullied into sobriety; she makes a shockingly pacifist speech. But her attempts to fix up the crumbling mansion and the family feuds are less successful: she sees, in fact, a ""horrible and incomprehensible"" manifestation of ancient, tentacled evil--a nightmare vision ""like a giant black jellyfish, going in and out, as if it were breathing."" And the fear of this vision will gradually weaken Mary Rose until she is freed by the final tragedy--the death of Alexander, which follows other darkly swirling events: the innocent chaste passion of a timid servant girl; the latent rage of a blackmailing footman; the self-serving exploitation of a village priest and a tenant farmer; a gang of angry quarry workers; and tense undercurrents during an Invernevisled company of Rifle Volunteers to a gala Royal Review in Edinburgh. Macintyre's characters glint with bracing complexities, and his prose fairly skirls with life: a first-rate saga is getting even better as it goes along.