This is the fourth book in a somewhat cozy murder mystery series set in the 1950’s in the Scottish Highlands. The recurring characters operate a small newspaper, the Highland Gazette. Sometimes, in order to get the bottom of a story, they end up investigating and solving a crime as well.
This book begins when Nurse Urquhart, who tends any injuries of the local shinty team coached by her husband, discovers a severed leg in the team’s laundry. (Shinty is a team game similar in some ways to field hockey and hurling.) The leg was found to come from a random corpse in the graveyard, so at first it seems like competitors are just getting a little nasty with one another. But attacks on the nurse – including anonymous threatening letters, continue. Soon two other women are also receiving the letters: Joanne Ross, a reporter on the Gazette, and Mae Bell, a glamorous visitor from America. Ms. Bell has put classified ads in the Gazette asking for any information on the death of her late husband, whose plane went down in the vicinity in 1952.
Joanne befriends Mae; as in the previous story, she is fascinated by anyone she perceives as more sophisticated and worldly than she. McAllister, Joanne’s boss, is also bedazzled by Mae, but he is solidly in love with Joanne, and nothing can change that. It is Joanne who is wary of letting her guard down with McAllister; both her father and her previous husband subjected her to abuse, and she has not yet learned it is safe to trust another.
All of this emotional wavering becomes moot when a murder occurs, and then both Mae and Joanne go missing. The others on the staff – particularly McAllister, Don (the deputy editor who loves Joanne like a daughter), and Ron, the young hotshot reporter who is like a brother to Joanne, join forces to find the women. They grow increasingly desperate as the days tick by with no clues.
Evaluation: As with her previous books, the author makes the Highlands come to life with her very atmospheric paeans to the singular landscape, and her ability to evoke the concerns and mores of that particular time and place. I especially love the frequent use of Scottish words that add so much flavor to these stories. The tension is ratcheted up a notch in this book, which made it hold my interest more than previous books, especially as the denouement approached.
Published by Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2013