Source: Review copy
Publication: 5th March 2020 from Polygon
When the body of a man in eighteenth-century Highland dress is discovered on the site of the Battle of Culloden, journalist Rebecca Connolly takes up the story for the Chronicle.
Meanwhile, a film being made about the ’45 Rebellion has enraged the right-wing group Spirit of the Gael which is connected to a shadowy group called Black Dawn linked to death threats and fake anthrax deliveries to Downing Street and Holyrood. When a second body – this time in the Redcoat uniform of the government army – is found in Inverness, Rebecca finds herself drawn ever deeper into the mystery. Are the murders connected to politics, a local gang war or something else entirely?
Happy publication day to Douglas Skelton and congratulations on a belter of a book! I knew from the opening paragraph that The Blood is Still was going to be a winner. Atmospheric conditions on a historic battle ground, finely tuned prose and a suspenseful, layered plot are going to do it for me every time.
In The Blood is Still, Skelton has produced an absolute cracker of a story and married it with strong, well-drawn characters, contemporary politics and a plot that will keep you hooked right to the end.
Second books in a series can be tough to write, but Skelton has really pulled this off after the success of Thunder Bay, the first in the Rebecca Connolly series. The Blood is Still is easily read as a stand-alone, but I’m guessing that by the time you have read it, you’ll be racing back to the bookshop to buy Thunder Bay!
Rebecca Connolly is a journalist and Skelton uses his first-hand knowledge of journalism to paint a realistic (and horribly depressing) picture of life in today’s digital first journalistic world where being tied to your desk is more important than going out making contacts and clickbait is what really matters to shareholders.
The backdrop of Inverness and the surrounding area makes for a strong sense of place and Skelton uses the history of the area to great effect in what is a contemporary novel dealing with some difficult themes.
Rebecca Connolly is keen to get a jump on her competitors when the dead body turns up on Culloden moor. But the unpleasant Head of Security on the nearby film set, ex-cop John Donahue is giving no access and saying nothing so she’s going to have to find other ways to get an entry into this story. At the same time, some local residents led by the unlikeliest of community leaders is causing a ruckus about a registered sex offender whom they believe will be homed in their development. The Ferry isn’t the most salubrious of places but it is home to the Burkes, father in prison, matriarch Mo ruling the roost and her two boys, Nolan and Scott, helping her to keep all their criminal enterprises on the go. Mo has taken up the cudgels on behalf of the community of Inchferry and she’s determined that no sex-offender is coming anywhere near her turf.
This is grist to the mill of Spirit of the Gael, a fanatical right-wing political racist group whose leader, Finbar Dalgleish, knows just how to jump onto this bandwagon and make it his own. Though it hasn’t yet been proven, Rebecca knows there’s a connection between Spirit of the Gael and New Dawn, a provisional terrorist group, even if the sharp suited Dalgleish denies it.
In the background, the reader knows that something deeper is going on. The voice of a child occasionally breaks in to the action, plaintive and unsettling, jarring with the narrative arc and yet underpinning it.
Rebecca has to walk a fine line between getting the story and keeping her bosses happy, but it’s a line that’s crumbling with every step she takes. When a second body is found, Rebecca finds herself in the midst of danger and with an unlikely ally.
Skelton has written a very well woven and beautifully layered plot with characters who raised an emotional response in me, leading to a visceral response to the ending that left me both sad and surprised.
Verdict: The Blood is Still is a compelling read with characters you care about and a layered, intelligent plot that captures both the heart and the mind. Absolutely unmissable.
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.