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Thursday 9 March 2017

‘Ghosts of the Vikings’ by Marsali Taylor

Published by Accent Press,
8 December 2016.
ISBN: 9781786154842

The latest of Marsali Taylor’s Shetland Sailing Mysteries encompasses opera and treasure hunting as well as the ingredients followers of the series have come to expect: the bleakly beautiful Shetland landscape, and yachtswoman protagonist Cass Lynch’s lifestyle on board her beloved Khalida.

Cass’s operatic soprano mother, the redoubtable Maman, has helped to organize a concert tour which takes in a country house venue on the Shetland isle of Unst, and Cass is on hand to provide her usual capable assistance when one of the singers succumbs to an apparent seafood allergy, and to rouse the interest of her friend D I Gavin Macrae when the incident develops more serious undertones.

Cass has already become involved in protecting an area of Unst from unscrupulous treasure hunters, following the discovery of an ancient and very valuable Viking hoard before the book begins. It begins to appear as if the two cases are linked, and when the opera company is confined to the island by a huge storm, cracks and rivalries throw suspicion in all directions.

The narrative contains strong elements of the classic country house mystery; almost everyone in the company has something to hide or an axe to grind, and there are enough outsiders in the frame to keep things even more interesting.

Once again, though, Marsali Taylor brings the Shetland background and inhabitants to vivid life, and this is the one of novel’s main strengths. Cass Lynch’s sailing background has only a small part to play this time; even the intrepid Cass doesn’t risk going to sea in a force eleven gale, and she spends most of her time ashore with the singers. This gives Taylor the opportunity to exercise another of her writing muscles: character development. The very different creative community, with all its insecurities and conflicts, comes to life as powerfully as the most down-to-earth Shetlanders, and is as sharply drawn as the Viking ruins and stark coastline of Unst.

The weather, too, plays a large part; Taylor’s description of the storm-tossed sea and the cold, wind and driving sleety rain made me shiver as I sat reading in my cosily warm armchair.

Once again Marsali Taylor has pulled off a difficult feat: a convincing murder mystery set in an environment where crime more usually means a traffic offence or too much to drink. What’s more, she does it with style, originality and that essential quality, readability.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

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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