O Caledonia

by Elspeth Barker – 1991

At the bottom of a great stone staircase, dressed in her mother’s black lace evening dress, twisted in murderous death, lies Janet. So end the sixteen years of Janet’s short life.

A life spent in a droughty Scottish Castle, where roses will not grow, and a jackdaw decides to live in the doll’s house.

A life peopled by prettier, smoother-haired siblings, a many with a face like the North Sea and the peculiar, whisky-swigging Cousin Lila

A life where Janet is perpetually misunderstood – and must turn from people, to animals, to books, to her own wild and wonderful imagination.

The ‘praises’ for this book and Maggie O’Farrell’s introduction really had me excited about this book! And Ms. Barker’s way with words is nice…

‘Winter descended on the glen; in mid-October came the first thin fall of snow, gone an hour later in the wet wind. the deer ventured down from the hills at dusk, tawny owls shrieked as they hunted through the darkness and shooting stars fled across the night sky. Leafless, the beeches and ashes shivered; the grass was parched with cold; pine and monkey-puzzle stood black and dominant. Only the red earth of the hill tracks retained its color; the puddles looked like pools of blood.

Of all the seasons this was the one Janet loved most.’

But the story was so mean! I just couldn’t like it. At all. Poor Janet. Maybe I missed something vital, but I found no satisfaction in this reading of any kind. Have any of you read it? Can you shine some light on what I missed?

On to something I’m sure I’ll like, a Janet McNeill book, The Maiden Dinosaur.

Coffin Road by Peter May

iuA man stands bewildered on a deserted beach on the Hebridean Isle of Harris. He cannot remember who he is. The only clue to his identity is a folded map of a path named the Coffin Road. He does not know where this search will take him.

A detective from Lewis sits aboard a boat, filled with doubt. DS George Gunn knows that a bludgeoned corpse has been discovered on a remote rock twenty miles offshore. He does not know if he has what it takes to uncover how and why.

A teenage girl lies in her Edinburgh bedroom, desperate to discover the truth about her scientist father’s suicide. Two years on, Karen Fleming still cannot accept that he would willfully abandon her. She doesn’t yet know his secret.

Coffin Road follows three perilous journeys towards one shocking truth – and the realization that ignorance can kill us.

Another great book by Peter May. Great tension, atmosphere and character. Except for the teenage girl. It was a little unbelievable for me and the relationship didn’t come across as that close somehow to me either. But, the book is still an excellent read. Hard to put down. I’m curious if you’ve read it what you thought of the teenager part, don’t want to give away anything here for those of you who haven’t read it.

The whole mystery is wrapped up in bees and what’s killing them. Lots of interesting stuff in this one, folks! Although this is a stand-alone book DS Gunn from the Lewis Trilogy is the main law enforcement character in this one. Fin and Marsaili are mentioned once too. It was nice revisiting the characters. A nice touch!

Here’s a nice article about this book in The Scotsman if your interested! Counts towards Read Scotland 2017 on Goodreads

A Tale of Two Murders by Elizabeth Ferrars

A witty man, quietly charming, could be good company: that was Stephen Gazeley.

and yet… And yet…

His sister Hilda, housekeeping for him since the  tragic death of his wife, had to admit that people did turn against him. Even his own wife in the year before she died. Daughter Katherine’s fiancé and his parents. His oldest friend. Even the gardener…

But it was only after the first murder that Hilda began to see things as they were, rather than as she wished they could be.

And found the process very, very uncomfortable…

Another solid page turner by Elizabeth Ferrars. I haven’t read one yet that I didn’t enjoy!

Peggy Ann

Last and First

The last book I read in 2016 was Murder for Christmas


Mordecai Tremaine, former tobacconist and perennial lover of romance novels, has been invited to spend Christmas in the sleepy village of Sherbroome at the country retreat of one Benedict Grame.

Arriving on Christmas Eve, he finds that the revelries are in full flow – but so too are tensions amongst the assortment of guests.

Midnight strikes and the party-goers discover that it’s not just presents nestling under the tree…there’s a dead body too. A dead body that bears a striking resemblance to Father Christmas.

With the snow falling and the suspicions flying, it’s up to Mordecai to sniff out the culprit – and prevent someone else from getting murder for Christmas.

This book was first published in 1949. Frances Duncan was the author of over twenty crime novels published between 1937 and 1959. Every year I say I’m going to read a Christmas mystery for Christmas and never get around to it. Finally I did! I picked this book up in Scotland last August.

It is a good solid mystery. I didn’t figure it out thats for sure! I didn’t warm up to any of the characters so it’s a good thing the plot was good. I liked Denys and her boyfriend Roger, but they didn’t really have a big enough play in the telling of the story to get to spend enough time with them. I’d like to come across more by this author. Have you read any of his books?

The first book of this year is Bodies in a Bookshop by R.T. Campbell

Botanist Max Boyle visits “a curious little shop in a side-street off the Tottenham Court Road” in London and is delighted with the bibliophile treasures he finds. He also stumbles across something less pleasant: in a back room, an unlit gas ring emits its noxious fumes and two corpses lie sprawled on the floor.

Boyles calls in ‘the Bishop’ – Chief Inspector Reginald F. Bishop of Scotland Yard – who in turn coaxes professor John Stubbs, a rotund old Scottish botanist and amateur criminologist, to lend his assistance. The salty old professor, quaffing pint after pint of good British beer, his pipe emitting clouds of foul smoke: the protesting Boyle, who would rather be basking in the sun on the Scilly Islands: and the polite, skeptical, world-weary Bishop soon delve beneath the tip of a sinister iceberg to discover skulduggery and dark deeds. Fueled as much by friction among themselves as by enthusiasm, the little crime-solving club threads a maze through London’s book and print emporia, grappling with a puzzle that is likely to baffle even the most astute armchair detective.

Bodies in a Bookshop is filled with amusing sallies of wit, quaint and pungent observations, droll characters and rambles among many a volume of forgotten lore. Crisp dialogue keeps the plot moving at top speed. After forty years, Bodies in a Bookshop is as exuberantly readable as ever, a welcome and refreshing relief from so many of today’s flat and colorless mystery puzzles.

This is my second book by R.T. Campbell (you can read my review of Unholy Dying here), and a gift from Joan @ Planet Joan! She’s such a thoughtful person. After she read it she thought of me and mailed it right off. Thank you, Joan!

Once again the wonderful John Stubbs with all his eccentricities. The story is told by Max and he is very drool and serious compared to Stubbs flamboyant personality. As in the first book Stubbs car, a Bentley, is almost a character and his driving is outrageous. There is always little comments by Max when they jump in and take off to search out a clue…

  “I’ll drive ye down.” he announced, “that’ll blow the depression out o’ yer head.”
  The Bishop shuddered, but apparently felt that he had nothing to live for anyhow and climbed in the Bentley. the journey passed without incident. We managed to negotiate Hyde Park Corner and finally found ourselves in the King’s Road.

This mystery was extra special as it was set in a bookshop and a quite smart book theft ring was uncovered in the solving of the murders. Lots of talk about beautiful old copies of rare books…

I had never held a genuine Blake illuminated book in my hands before. It was certainly very beautiful. I could almost, for a moment, understand the temptation that would fall on a collector if the book was offered to him. It was such a beautiful piece of work that to have it in the house would be a continual pleasure.

A man after my own heart! Another grand romp and solid mystery.

This book counts for Read Scotland 2017 and Bev’s Vintage Cover Scavenger Hunt 2017 – Gold era with a staircase on the cover and is the first book in my chain for Bev’s Follow the Clues Challenge

Peggy Ann

Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton

Davie McCall is tired. Tired of violence, tired of the Life. He’s always managed to stay detached from the brutal nature of his line of work, but recently he has caught himself enjoying it.

In the final installment in the Davie McCall series old friends clash and long buried secrets are unearthed as McCall investigates a brutal five-year-old crime.

Davie wants out, but the underbelly of Glasgow is all he has ever known. Will what he learns about his old ally Big Rab McClymont be enough to get him out of the Life? And could the mysterious woman who just moved in upstairs be just what he needs?

This is the final installment in the Davie McCall series and sadly I started with it. How did I miss the first three?! There was enough background woven into the story that it was a great read on its own, but I really want to go back and start at the beginning now! Great characters and storylines. I’m really interested to meet Davie in the beginning and follow his development and how he came to the place he finds himself in this story, wanting out of the Life.

The Life is the life of an enforcer for a big time gang boss in the underbelly of Glasgow, Scotland. Davie was born into the life, but lately he fears the dark is taking him over. He wants out before there is nothing worth redeeming left. Might not be as easy as he thinks though!

I was taken with the ability Douglas Skelton has to take a totally hard, violent man and humanize him to the point that you find yourself rooting for, even liking this man. He takes us on a ride through a rough and tumble, violent life style without excessive foul language or blood and guts, yet still absolutely conveying the depths of the Life. Our imaginations are free to fill in the blanks. A little more in my comfort zone!

Solid characters, some you like and some you hate!
Big Rab, Davie’s long time friend and boss. He always had limits, scruples of a sort. Has that changed?

Jimsie, the new young recruit. Eager to ‘do the job’ maybe a bit to eager. Can Davie rein him in and warn him about the darkness?

DI Knight, the crooked cop. Evil.

Jerry O’Neill, a family man who did time for a burglary and rape he says he didn’t commit. He wants revenge. What will it cost him?

Donna, the new neighbor upstairs. Davie runs to her rescue, but ‘she’s not what she seems’. Will Davie be pulled in?

Arrow, Davie’s faithful dog. I loved this character!

Sprinkled throughout are light little incidents that give the book some levity from the darkness of the tale. I got a chuckle out of small time crook and druggy Ricky Ramage…

 ‘The flat was a revelation. They both saw Ramage as an obnoxious wee scroat. McCall kept his place clean, but Ramage’s flat positively sparkled. The man himself paced around the room, the gravity-defying fag tucked in the corner of his mouth as he nervously moved things around. He plumped up a cushion on the incredibly comfortable looking settee; he shifted a tasteful little ornament on the mantelpiece; he straightened a magazine that somehow had the audacity to sit slightly askew on the glass-topped coffee table.
  ‘I wasnae expecting company, neither I was,’ he said as he flitted about.

and terrified of Davie McCall and what him paying a call might mean, this following a series of tough questions ..

 ‘Ramage paused then, one trembling hand rising to pluck the cigarette from his mouth. A tiny blizzard of silver ash flaked off and snowed on the carpet. He looked down at it mournfully and Donovan got the impression he was contemplating fetching the vacuum cleaner. ‘ 

I got a kick out of that exchange and it lightens the mood. Excellent book, read it! But start with the first one if you can!

Check out Douglas’ website

This book is only available on Kindle in the US right now but the paperback will be released in September. It has already been released in the UK.

Peggy Ann

Fear the Light by Elizabeth Ferrars

First Published in 1960

Home of Horror
Peggy Robertson thought she had left the small town where she was raised for behind her. Peggy had won honors at college, settled in the city, and now, despite her good looks and comparative youth, already had launched a brilliant career as a scholar and teacher.

But now Peggy was coming home…back to a house haunted by violent death and strange mystery…back to a man who was a genius or a devil or both…back to a love that could not be spokeand to a deadly danger that would not be denied…

This synopsis on the back of the book is a bit deceiving as Peggy’s cousin Charles is really the main character and her named is spelled differently inside the book! It’s Peggie in the book. Hmm…

Peggie makes a minor appearance in the first part of the book after her granny is found dead on the stairs and then goes back home (or does she?). But she does play a bigger part in the last quarter of the book as does a secret romance.

Charles’ Aunt Alice, Peggie’s granny, is found dead on the stairs when Charles returns from a short walk to the mailbox the first evening he is home after a 3 year absence. He stayed away all that time as he was in love with the neighbor’s wife, but she loved her husband. In that three years a lot had changed mostly his Aunt Alice’s health. She’d had a bad fall. Alice never attempted the stairs since her fall. What was she doing on them? Why was the attic door open when Charles is sure David Baldrey, the odd jobs man, had closed it earlier in the day? Who is this Professor Stacey thats been writing Aunt Alice about researching long dead relatives and why is he here a week before he was expected? Then there is a second murder!

Well plotted, lots of good suspects, secrets and illicit love affairs and a grand old house. Good read. Never disappointed by Elizabeth Ferrars.

This book qualifies for Bev’s Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt Silver Age Mysteries for the category A Statue. That brings me up to a total of 6, 4 for Silver Age and 2 for Golden Age.

Also qualifies for Gothic Fiction Reading Challenge @Book of SecretsT his is my second book for this one.

And of course Read Scotland 2016 as Ms. Ferrars is Scottish! 7 of 21 books needed for this one.
3 birds with one book!

Peggy Ann