Let me start, dear reader, with a declaration of interest. I have known Andrew Nicoll for over 20 years. I know him, though it is more than 10 years since I have seen him, in his capacity as a political journalist and from the days when I communicated professionally in Scotland for my living. So I know him, and I like him.
None of that would influence my review, save, perhaps, to make it a little kinder were I to dislike his work.
Happily then, I don’t have to search for my kindness gene, for with this book Andrew has turned an old story into the most delightful prose and has created a book which I read in two sittings flat.
For this book, Nicoll turns to a tale set in his own back yard – the genteel Broughty Ferry, just outside Dundee. And how beautifully he brings it to life. A small town in which the Chief of Police is a big fish, where the lower classes go unremarked by those of a higher social profile and where the local sergeant, who is the narrator of our tale, sees all those he encounters in his daily work as his ‘flock’.
A lady of slightly uncertain years who resides alone in a grand house and is certainly not short of money is found brutally murdered. From there, the tale is one in which the police set out to find the murderer, the motive and the means.
Nicoll triumphs in the beautifully written detail of these lives as he explores the hitherto secret life of Miss Jean Milne, those she encountered and finds suspects and witnesses -almost too many of the latter to countenance.
Here, too are the beautifully observed politics and aspirations of small town life and all the suspicions and neuroses of those who regularly come into contact with bigger, neighbouring cities. The bones of a real murder mystery are taken and re-shaped to tell the story in a way which keeps the facts accurate, but which fleshes out the characters and takes you with them on their journey.
The tale is told in a way which slightly makes me think of a Fred Vargas novel (that’s a compliment, by the way). There is such a beautiful, lyrical quality to Nicoll’s writing – in all his novels – that it never fails to lure you into his enchanted world.
Anyway, I loved it, and I think you will, too.
The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne is published by Black and White Publishing.
It’s currently on Amazon for kindle at the incredible bargain price of 49p. Go on – take a chance – you will not be sorry.