Source: Review copy
Publication: 29 April 2021 from Orion
My thanks to Margaret Kirk and the publisher for a review copy
Some cases are personal…
Tied to a derelict pier on Orkney, the bloated remains of a man bob in the waves, under the shadow of forbidding Sandisquoy House. The locals know him as William Spencer.
But DCI Lukas Mahler identifies him as Alex Fleming – his former boss.
Unable to step away from the case, Mahler tries to piece together why Fleming would retire to such a remote location. But the deeper he digs, the more disturbing the investigation becomes.
Seal bones, witches’ salve, and runic symbols appear everywhere he looks, ushering Mahler towards Fleming’s most notorious unsolved case: the ‘Witchfinder’ murders. And towards a dark and uncomfortable truth someone has gone to great lengths to bury…
I’ve become a big fan of the Lukas Mahler series since I read both Shadow Man and What Lies Buried. For my money, In the Blood is yet another very strong addition to the series. One of the real benefits of setting this series in the Highlands is the huge range of magnificent locations that is available to the author. This time, the action moves between the magical, mystic islands of Orkney and Inverness.
Lukas hasn’t really got any better at handling his love life, but right now he has other things to worry about. Mahler’s boss, DCI June Wallace is on sick leave and Mahler is acting up while she is away. Mahler, already not a fan of Detective Superintendent Chae Hunt, is dismayed to find that Hunt has taken the opportunity of June’s absence to move the whole MIT team into the Inshes Divisional HQ; the better to take them under his control. And Mahler, a hands-on copper if ever there was one, is champing at the bit to get away from the endless paperwork of a D.C.I. and back into the field.
So when a dead body is found in a remote corner of Orkney, Lukas finds a way to attend the scene. And what a macabre scene it is. The remote and crumbling house that is Sandisquoy is far away from the beautiful Orkney beaches. It is sited in a secluded corner. Dark, a little dank and unwelcoming, Sandisquoy House is the essence of inhospitable. William Spencer, its reclusive owner, is found tied to a mooring post in the water at the house’s jetty.
Except that, as Mahler realises with a jolt, the body is not William Spencer but someone he knew and respected, his previous boss at the Met, DI Alex Fleming.
Fleming, as Mahler knows, took early retirement following a difficult and unresolved case which had run the Met team ragged. Three women had been brutally murdered and beside their bodies were objects suggestive of occult practices, so the case had been nicknamed The Witchfinder. Now Fleming, the lead investigator, is dead and Mahler finds the same ritualistic elements left behind in his pockets.
Knowing the victim, Mahler has no choice but to recuse himself from leading the team and put DI Iain Ferguson in charge. Yeah, right. Like Mahler was ever not going to investigate the death of a man he had known and respected.
Kirk’s stunning sense of place sets the tone for a novel that is rich in atmosphere. The wet, dank nature of Sandisquoy and the local legends that surround the house endow the chapters with a dark, eerie, supernatural feel. The air is full of secrets and even the house has secrets that it is unwilling to give up.
Mahler then has to sidestep Chae and keep Fergie in charge, all the while trying to work out what Fleming was doing in Orkney and whether his death has anything to do with the old cases that he worked on. It’s a delicate dance and not one he always does well. It’s good to see Fergie stepping up to the plate, though and bringing back the dodgy DI, Andy Black, who has lost none of his brazen approach. This is a great team of characters who are well realised and who grow with every book.
Meanwhile, back in Inverness, Anna is fretting as a killer appeals his sentence and Lukas is not where he should be, which is at her side. Kirk employs multiple threads to this story, layering it and bringing in the involvement of an officer from Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism which only adds to this complex and layered mystery.
Verdict: Kirk has produced a pacy, tense and thrilling novel which sheds a little more light on Lukas’ background while keeping the reader enthralled in a murder mystery with overtones of witchcraft, selkies and Norse gods. It’s thrilling, intriguing and unpredictable. What more do you need? Highly recommended.
Margaret Kirk writes ‘Highland Noir’ Scottish crime fiction, set in and around her home town of Inverness.Her debut novel, Shadow Man, won the Good Housekeeping First Novel Competition in 2016 and the second in the Lukas Mahler series, What Lies Buried was published in 2019. Margaret is also the writer of several award-winning short stories, including The Seal Singers, which has been published in translation in Germany, and Still Life, which was broadcast on Radio 4 as part of the ‘Scottish Shorts’ series.