Duchlan Castle is a gloomy place in the Scottish Highlands. Late one night the body of Mary Gregor, sister of the laird, is found in the castle. She has been stabbed to death in her locked bedroom. The only tiny clue to the culprit is a silver fish's scale, left on the floor next to Mary's body.
Inspector Dundas is dispatched to investigate. The Gregor family and their servants are quick to explain that Mary was a kind and charitable woman, but Dundas uncovers a more complex truth.
Soon further deaths occur. Superstitious locals believe that fish creatures from the nearby waters are responsible, but luckily for Inspector Dundas, gifted amateur sleuth Eustace Hailey is on the scene.
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I have been enjoying the release of some of the older 'classic' detective stories, and this is one in that vein. At first I thought it would be a 'mental puzzle - locked room' book, which in a sense it was; but the characters were more interesting than is normally the case in that genre. Then I thought it might tip over into post-Victorian 'blood and thunder' romanticism; but while that was a real risk, and the story is dramatic in the classic sense, with lots of stuff about 'the Highland character' somehow it managed to rise above that and remain genuinely engaging. Perhaps this was partly because it was a convincing example of the thoughts and opinions that were prevalent at the time of its writing, which gave it a kind of authenticity of its own.
At any rate, I found myself gripped both by the twists and turns of the plot and by the characters, romanticised though they were.
I particularly enjoyed the character of the doctor who is the leading detective. He managed to remain thoughtful, rational and kindly. Some of the plot developments were genuinely surprising; I won't go into any details as I don't want to spoil other readers' pleasure, but they will know them when they encounter them!
This is the first performance I have heard by James Bryce. As soon as I finish this review I am going to so look for others by him.
This being a detective story, it operates on a cerebral rather than an emotional level. Nonetheless, the central emotional situation, which turns on the manipulative character of the lady in the book's title, is surprisingly believable despite its dramatic exaggeration.
Possibly because of my family connection to Loch Fyne, I greatly enjoyed the way the setting was used as part of the overall drama. Small details about life there at the time of the book (e.g. the way the steamboats of fish merchants would go out to meet the fleet as it returned) added colour without breaking up the narrative.
I don't often listen to books a second time, but I will do so with this one. I'm not quite able to put my finger on why I found it so absorbing, but this one really gripped my imagination.
- Kl Love
This author was new to me, though I do read a lot of older detective/mystery stories. I very much enjoyed it and will certainly look out for this author in future. A good story and a well described setting. I thought it would be something in the cosy line, but there is much more depth to the story than that.
It was well read and I will look out for this reader in future.