Source: Review copy
Publication: 7 March 2019 from Polygon
When reporter Rebecca Connolly is told of Roddie Drummond’s return tothe island of Stoirm she senses a story. Fifteen years before he was chargedwith the murder of his lover, Mhairi. When he was found Not Proven, Roddie leftthe island and no one, apart from his sister, knew where he was or what he wasdoing.
Now he has returned for his mother’s funeral – and it will spark anexplosion of hatred, bitterness and violence.
Defying her editor’s wishes, Rebecca joins forces with local photographer Chazz Wymark to dig into the secrets surrounding Mhairi’s death, and her mysterious last words of Thunder Bay, the secluded spot on the west coast of the island where, according to local lore, the souls of the dead set off into the afterlife. When another murder takes place, and the severe weather that gives the island its name hits, she is ideally placed to uncover the truth about what happened that night fifteen years before.
Hold on to your hats ladies and gentlemen, because this isDouglas Skelton as you have never seen him before. If you know his novels, hisplays or his true crime writing, you will know that he can most certainlywrite, and write well.
His previous novel, TheJanus Run, was a terrifically paced thriller set in New York. But in Thunder Bay, it feels like DouglasSkelton has found his true voice.
In Thunder Bay, the prose is what lifts this stunning thriller from the norm to an exceptionally well told story, where the characterisation is razor sharp, the setting is pitch perfect and the plotting beautifully structured.
Thunder Bay isset on the small fictional Scottish Island of Stoirm, not a big island, but onewith enough isolated pockets to ensure that not everyone will always knoweveryone else’s business.
Thunder Bay is one of those pockets. Not many people gothere. Island lore has it that this is where the souls of the dead come to betaken across the water into the west, to the afterlife. It is a place of secrets and its name is thelast thing that Mhairi Sinclair spoke before she died.
Roddie Drummond was her lover and in the subsequent trialwhere he was charged with murder, the jury returned a verdict of not proven.Roddie left the island and was not seen again, until now. He has come back forhis mother’s funeral, and the island is buzzing with the news of his return.
Rebecca Connolly works for the Chronicle, the local paper.Her father was born on Stoirm but left many years ago and has never been back.Rebecca knows that this is a huge story, but she’s having real trouble gettingher editor to understand that this is one that can’t be done as a phoner. Everyweek it’s getting harder for Rebecca to feel like she’s doing the job of a realjournalist as the paper’s resources are squeezed.
Tipped off by Chaz, a young local freelance photographer on Stoirm, she can feel the pull of the story and, if she’s honest, she’s always hoped that there would be an opportunity for her to visit the place where her father was born and brought up.
Sonya is Mhairi’s daughter. She wants to know why her mother’s murder is officially listed as unsolved when every islander tells her that Roddie Drummond did it. She just wants to look him in the eye so that she knows, once and for all if he is guilty. She’ll know just by looking, she is sure.
When Rebecca gets there, she finds that not everyone is welcoming and that Roddie Drummond is not the only one keeping secrets. For Stoirm is an island full of secrets, and some secrets just don’t want to be told.
There’s more than one story on Stoirm. Lord Henry Stuart hasenlisted some serious help to ensure that he can push his ambitious plans fordeveloping his estate, including building a distillery and upgrading his houseto cater for exclusive hunting parties. The locals are not wholly convinced andthe public meeting held to discuss the plans is not the sure thing Lord Henrywas hoping for.
For Rebecca, this is a chance to finally understand herroots and to pull off a coup that could get national attention. For theislanders, these are secrets that should be left undisturbed, before more harmbefalls those who disturb the uneasy peace.
Douglas Skelton has written an atmospheric and grippingbook, with rounded and fully rooted characters that make the pages sing. Thisis prose that flows clear as a highland spring, fresh, natural and dynamic.
All his characters are very well drawn, but special noteshould be made of the central protagonist Rebecca. Skelton has captured herspirit and character very well and she is both believable and noteworthy. I’dhappily read another novel with her as the central character.
Stoirm, though, is the really class character in this book. The sense of place is palpable. The locations are so vividly and visually described that you can see them and feel the atmosphere around you. This is a place where past and present sit together, perhaps uneasily, but in a silent accord that no-one should attempt to sunder.
The past will demand its dues if Stoirm is to prevail and in pulling together all the strands of this finely woven cloth, Skelton has produced an evocative, beautiful and tense tapestry of a read that will undoubtedly stand the test of time.
Verdict: Tense, atmospheric, beautifully written. A cracker of a crime novel I just loved.
Douglas Skelton has published 12 books on true crime and history. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, shelf stacker, meat porter, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), reporter, investigator and editor.
His first thriller BLOOD CITY was published in 2013.
The gritty thriller was the first in a quartet set on the tough streets of Glasgow from 1980 onwards. It was followed by CROW BAIT, DEVIL’S KNOCK and finally OPEN WOUNDS, which was longlisted for the first McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year in 2016.
His two Dominic Queste thrillers, THE DEAD DON’T BOOGIE and TAG – YOU’RE DEAD lightened the tone but didn’t skimp on thrills.
He followed this with his New York-set chase thriller THE JANUS RUN in 2018.
Douglas is often recruited by documentary makers to contribute to true crime shows on TV and radio and is a regular on the crime writing festival circuit.
He also takes part in comedy shows with other crime writers. To date he has written three Carry on Sleuthing plays in which he also appears along with Caro Ramsay, Michael J. Malone, Theresa Talbot, Pat Young and Lucy Cameron, with occasional guests Alex Gray, Lin Anderson and Neil Broadfoot.
He is also one quarter of Four Blokes in search of a Plot, along with Gordon Brown, Mark Leggatt and Neil Broadfoot.