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Saturday 2 January 2021

‘Death from a Shetland Cliff’ by Marsali Taylor

Published by Headline Accent,
1st October 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-4722-7593-6 (PB)

One of the things I enjoy most about Marsali Taylor’s series featuring Shetland sailor Cass Lynch is the way she weaves a wealth of fascinating extras into what is always a cracking good mystery involving interesting characters.

This time Cass is on land – well, mostly; you can’t keep a sailor out of the water for long. Her training ship Sørlandet is in dry dock ahead of a long journey, and she is persuaded to spend her leave helping out an elderly lady recovering from a broken hip. Tamar, her temporary employer, is ninety years old and full of vigour and spirit; they build em tough in Shetland. Under Tamar’s tutelage, Cass learns, and the reader learns with her, about the feeding habits of sea otters, how to choose flowers for a country show and make a cake in a microwave, and more than she really wants to know about the smuggling of young raptors. That’s in addition to the usual helping of sailing lessons, including how to deal with bad guys who try to ram your boat. And if I put my mind to it, I might even pick up a smattering of Shetlan, the unique island dialect, from the helpful glossary at the back of the book. 

All that and a couple of bodies and a puzzle to unravel, not to mention a colourful cast of characters familiar and new. As well as Tamar, there’s Loretta the wannabe Lady Di, Felicity the London sophisticate, Kayleigh the down-to-earth crofter lass and a whole team of male relations of assorted ages and walks of life. Oh, and a cute kitten – or ketling in Shetlan. Cass finds herself embroiled, much against her will, in a tangle of family relationships and rivalries, with a whiff of scandal to make it even more intriguing. On the face of it the first body, possibly the result of an accidental fall from a clifftop until the pathologist finds shotgun pellets, is completely unrelated, at least to begin with, but the second strikes at the heart of the family issues.

Suspicious death seems to follow Cass around. However hard she tries to keep out of it, she inevitably becomes embroiled in the mystery, though when her policeman lover D I Gavin Macrae arrives to investigate she doesn’t complain too loudly. The solution to the puzzle threatens to elude them almost to the final page, when with the author’s usual deft sleight of hand, it all concludes on a note of why didn’t I see that?

And then we’re left with the mystery that runs through the books: when will Cass give up her sea-roving life and settle down with Gavin? If that means no more mysteries, I’m hoping it’s not any time soon.

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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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