Graeme-Evans (The Dressmaker, 2010, etc.) intertwines two adventures separated by more than a millennium.
Grad student Freya Dane inherits Findnar, an island off the northeastern Scottish coast, from her father, Michael, an archaeologist who left Australia and her mother years ago. Arriving on the island, she finds a letter left by Michael, who tells her he had been excavating in the stone circle that stands on Findnar alongside the ruins of an abbey. “There are riddles in this place that I have never solved,” the letter continues, “I must ask you to help me, though I have no right.” It’s soon apparent that these riddles concern the parallel narrative of Signy, who comes to Findnar from the mainland to perform a sacrifice, despite the hostility of the island’s Christian newcomers, who object to pagan rites near their church. Freya begins digging while improving on an initially uneasy relationship with Daniel Boyne, a fisherman still guilty about the fact that Michael died while rescuing him from drowning. Signy sees Findnar sacked by Viking raiders and is rescued by a kindly nun, as is a near-dead boy who was one of the raiders. Graeme-Evans unfolds separate but equally compelling dramas as Signy falls in love with the wounded raider, with disastrous consequences, and Freya and Daniel are drawn together by unnerving shared visions of the long-ago tragedy. The semi-supernatural way the modern protagonists uncover the mysteries of the past isn’t terribly plausible (or necessary), but the storytelling is so strong, the characters so engaging, that most readers won't care. Freya, longing to connect with the dead father whose absence has always haunted her romantic relationships, and Signy, resolute and defiant under the most terrible circumstances, are surrounded by a vivid supporting cast, including starchy librarian Katherine MacAllister, who was Michael’s lover, and glib-but-not-so-bad architect Simon Fettler. The conclusion of Signy’s saga is dark indeed, so it’s a relief that Graeme-Evans lets Freya have a happy ending.
First-rate commercial fiction.