Review of “Thunder Bay” by Douglas Skelton

Atmosphere and tension are the key aspects of this Scottish noir thriller that was long-listed for Bloody Scotland’s McIlvanney Prize for Best Scottish Crime Book of the Year.

Inverness reporter Rebecca Connelly gets a call from her photographer friend, Chaz Wymark, about a story she might want to cover on the (fictional) island of Stoirm, south of the Isle of Skye on Scotland’s west coast. Rebecca has an interest in Stoirm besides a potential scoop for her paper, the Highland Chronicle. Her late father, a policeman, lived on the island until he was 18. While he taught Rebecca so much, he would never talk about the island or why he left. Rebecca’s boss didn’t approve of a trip: “You’re not Lois Lane and we’re not the Daily Planet.” But the double temptation of a good story and the opportunity to find out more about her father proved irresistible to Rebecca. She called in sick and went anyway.

What Chaz suspected would be newsworthy was the return to Stoirm of Roddie Drummond, who 15 years earlier received a “Not Proven” verdict for the murder of his girlfriend Mhairi Sinclair, viciously beaten and left to die. Now Roddie’s mother has passed away, and Roddie is coming back for the first time since the trial to attend her funeral. While a “Not Proven” verdict means the jury couldn’t decide between “guilty” or “not guilty,” it seemed like the other people of Stoirm thought differently. Roddie’s return is stirring up a great deal of emotion on the island, and Rebecca adds to it with her prodding questions.

The secrets about the past gradually come out as additional violence roils the electrified island. In the surprising and suspenseful denouement, readers (but not many of the fictional characters) learn the secret of what happened to Mhairi, and some justice – but not all – finally gets served.

As one of the characters points out to Rebecca, “The truth is more than a collection of facts. Did your dad never tell you that?”

Evaluation: This page-turning crime fiction is all the more satisfying for the realistic ways in which memory is shown to be shaped by more than just the “facts.” Which is more important in the end: what “really” happened, or what people believe based on their prejudices and preconceptions?

Rating: 4/5

Published in the U.S. by Arcade Publishing, 2020


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3 Responses to Review of “Thunder Bay” by Douglas Skelton

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I like the idea of a mystery explore memory too. This sounds really good.

  2. Mystica says:

    I particularly like the setting. I read one book about Skye and loved the descriptions.

  3. stacybuckeye says:

    Love most everything set in Scotland. Would love to visit someday!

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