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Friday 2 March 2018

‘Death in Shetland Waters’ by Marsali Taylor

Published by Allison & Busby,
23  November 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-2202-0 (HB)

Marsali Taylor's Cass Lynch series is rapidly becoming a by-word for gripping mysteries with a large sailing component, but this is the first I've read which is set almost entirely on-board ship.

Clearly there are others I haven't yet discovered, charting protagonist Cass's progress up through the ranks of the training tall ship Sørlandet; she is now third mate on a journey from Norway to Ireland as part of the Tall Ships race.

By the time I'd read a few chapters, I felt I knew more about sailing a tall ship than a non-sailor would ever need to, but more power to Marsali Taylor for using her own specialized knowledge to bring her world to vibrant life for the ordinary reader with just enough technical detail. That this knowledge also proves intrinsic to the plot should come as no surprise; certain elements of the murder mystery rely heavily on close acquaintance with the workings and geography of the kind of ship the fictional Sørlandet is based on, and the kind of life an experienced crew member would lead.

This time there is no stark Shetland landscape as background to the story, but the sense of place is no less vivid. The play of sun on many shades of sea; the elegant officers' accommodation and less formal crew quarters; the bustle and din of the Belfast harbour on a rare foray on shore: all are as skilfully portrayed as the expanses of treeless terrain and distinctive buildings of Taylor's island home in some of Cass's other adventures.

Taylor's well-rounded, lifelike characters, familiar or new, are one of the many joys of the series. The large crew, most of them learning the skills a sailor needs, offers up so many potential suspects that all the trainees are ruled out in a foreword in order to avoid confusion. Even so, several of the trainees on Cass's watch have distinct personalities, as do the officers and ABs who do come under suspicion.

By the time the mystery is solved, and the culprit identified, with the help of D I Gavin Macrae, now firmly established as her partner in life, Cass Lynch herself has decided she has had enough of murder following in her footsteps and wishes it would stop. I sincerely hope this isn't a hint that the series is coming to an end; that would be a pity, and a great loss to the crime fiction world.
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.

Click on the title to read a review of Ghosts of the Vikings

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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