Source: Review copy
Publication: 5 August 2021 from Polygon Books
My thanks to the publisher and Douglas Skelton for an advance copy for review
In 1752, Seamus a’Ghlynne, James of the Glen, was executed for the murder of government man Colin Campbell. He was almost certainly innocent.
When banners are placed at his gravesite claiming that his namesake, James Stewart, is innocent of murder, reporter Rebecca Connolly smells a story. The young Stewart has been in prison for ten years for the brutal murder of his lover, lawyer and politician Murdo Maxwell, in his Appin home. Rebecca soon discovers that Maxwell believed he was being followed prior to his murder and his phones were tapped.
Why is a Glasgow crime boss so interested in the case? As Rebecca keeps digging, she finds herself in the sights of Inverness crime matriarch Mo Burke, who wants payback for the damage caused to her family in a previous case.
Set against the stunning backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, A Rattle of Bones is a tale of injustice and mystery, and the echo of the past in the present.
This is the third Rebecca Connelly book, though they can be read in any order, it’s worth starting at the beginning with Thunder Bay because the character development is brilliantly thought through in this series.
Rebecca Connelly, good journalist and getting better. Good friend and ally and not someone prepared to let the bad guys walk all over her – at least not any more. Since she left her job at The Highland Chronicle, she’s been crafting a decent role for herself in the small news agency she has joined and that’s giving her the job satisfaction and flexibility that an impoverished local paper reliant on click-bait just couldn’t any more. She’s on a one woman mission to show that journalism matters.
There are lots of reasons to love this series but one of the key ones is a brilliant evocation of the Scottish Highland landscape that permeates this book. It’s a land that is majestic but can be barren and bleak; a land steeped in history that Skelton conjures up before our eyes; a land drenched in the blood of our forefathers and a land where stories whisper to you down the centuries.
It is at one such site that the story feels altogether more contemporary. The site where the innocent James Stewart was hanged in 1752 after being wrongly convicted is now the focus of protest. Another James Stewart claims he has been wrongly convicted and is now languishing in prison.
Rebecca follows the story and in doing so she brings herself into conflict with more than one formidable adversary.
As befits any thriller, this one is chock full of bad deeds and dodgy characters, including the return of the formidable chain smoking Mo Burke who has more than one reason to want to see an end to Rebecca’s journalism. Back too, is Finbar Dalgleish, the enigmatic figure who is leader of the political party Spioraid nan Gael – Spirit of the Gael or SG as they have become known. Whether Finbar is also behind the break -away extreme New Dawn party is a moot point. Either way, neither of these people is likely to wish Rebecca well in her endeavours any time soon.
Douglas Skelton draws his characters really well. From the reserved Afua Stewart seeking justice for her son his book is populated with a brilliantly observed cast of characters.
Rebecca herself is a terrific character. She’s been through so much and she is still grieving – a weight hangs about her shoulders that she can’t get rid of though she’s trying by throwing herself wholeheartedly into her work. She’s developing, book by book, into an excellent investigator and though she still has a lot to learn, she’s getting there. One thing is for sure, she’s not anyone’s idea of a pushover these days.
Douglas Skelton’s dark thriller is leavened by some wry observations; ‘he was shaving gel handsome’ and some delightful moments of humour that offer moments of respite in a tension fuelled read.
The plotting is excellent and Skelton manages to make us second guess some of his less savoury characters by an injection of ambiguous morality into some of his murkier characters. It seems there may be some honour among some of these thieves after all.
Verdict: A deliciously atmospheric, tense and thrilling read. Goes straight into the must read category with the first two books in the series.
Douglas Skelton was born in Glasgow. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), journalist and investigator. He has written eleven true crime and Scottish criminal history books but now concentrates on fiction. His novel Open Wounds (2016) was longlisted for the McIlvanney Award. Douglas has investigated real-life crime for Glasgow solicitors and was involved in a long-running campaign to right the famous Ice-Cream Wars miscarriage of justice.