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Sunday, 19 July 2015

‘The Body in the Bracken’ by Marsali Taylor

Published by Accent Press,
10 June 2015.
ISBN: 9781783758548

Shetland isn’t exactly a hotbed of criminal activity, but Marsali Taylor’s yachtswoman protagonist Cass Lynch seems to become entangled in a large proportion of the crime that does occur. In The Body in the Bracken, the fourth in a series she shares with Highland copper D I Gavin Macrae, she stumbles across a body during a visit to the Highlands. She subsequently finds it has connections and ramifications back on her island home, which not only put her life in danger, but also allow her to get closer to Gavin Macrae, who she has encountered in the course of several previous adventures.

The mystery element of the narrative is relatively straightforward: well-crafted and well-paced, with a decent clutch of suspects and enough complications to keep things interesting. But the real joy of Marsali Taylor’s work is the richness of her portrayal of the Shetland background and inhabitants, and the effortless weaving in of Cass Lynch’s sailing background, which is intrinsic to her personality and the USP of this growing series.

Both sailing and Shetland life and terrain are clearly in Taylor’s blood; in particular her vivid accounts, through Cass’s eyes, of the Up Helly A, a winter festival and an unscheduled short voyage in the teeth of a storm speak volumes about her intimate knowledge of both subjects. She has the knack of drawing the reader in to a way of life which will be foreign to most people – in the case of Shetland itself, surprisingly so, since it is, technically at least, part of the British Isles – and making one feel welcome, and almost as much part of it as Cass Lynch herself.

She describes distinctive buildings, a bleakly beautiful landscape, the ups and downs of life on board a boat, and the day-to-day traditions and conventions of Shetland people, creating a whole world for her idiosyncratic characters like Cass’s beloved Cat (an actual cat, but with a distinct personality), Reidar the Danish pastry chef and Cass’s ill-assorted parents; yet she never loses sight of the plot and the need to maintain the narrative tension.

Cass Lynch is an unusual protagonist, a stand-out in an overcrowded genre. And if Marsali Taylor decided to switch genre and become a travel writer, she would doubtless shine there too.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Earlier books in the series are: Cold in the Earth, The Darkness and the Deep, Lying Dead, Lamb to the Slaughter, Dead in the Water, Cradle to Grave, Evil for Evil, Bad Blood.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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