Staff Review: Anne Kennedy: A Small Death in a Great Glen by A.D. Scott

The first in a series (A Double Death on the Black Isle, 2011; Beneath the Abbey Wall, 2012), A. D. Scott’s debut novel places 21st century issues in a mid-twentieth century context. Post-World War II British – or in this case Scottish – mysteries tend to be of the cozy variety, depicting a gentle and genteel lifestyle in which a citizen-sleuth often solves the crime before a more or less inept police officer. “Small Death” retains the inept police officer but the bumbling is far from innocent. And the citizen-sleuth is a journalist, newly come to the Highlands from Glasgow aiming both to turn the small weekly into a modern, smalldeathingreatglendynamic newspaper and to leave old wounds behind. That, of course, is not to be and a little boy’s death by drowning forces many secrets into the open. In that time and place PTSD was called “shellshock” and referred only to the most obviously damaged veterans; domestic violence was hidden from even the best of friends; unwed mothers were forced to give up their babies for adoption; pedophilia was covered over by victims and authorities. At the same time everyone knew these secrets that, perhaps as women began to more strongly resist their traditional roles, began to emerge from the shadows. John McAllister shows more patience in gathering evidence than with his tradition-bound staff, despite moments in which he is overcome by the emotions his growing knowledge rouses, and proves himself to be a determined man of action. The perpetrators will not surprise you (much) but the conclusion is wholly unexpected. The complex “everyone is related to everyone else” connections can be a bit hard to keep straight and it’s often unclear whether McAllister whether his predecessor Don McLeod is currently his subordinate or his superior. A few passages read more “romance” than mystery. But the bits of Highland Scots dialect add delicious flavor and readers will certainly want more John McAllister.

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