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Thursday 11 November 2021

‘The Shetland Sea Murders’ by Marsali Taylor

Published by Headline Accent,
29 July 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-4722-7596-7 (PB)

Just when I thought I'd glimpsed every aspect of Cass Lynch's sailing life, Marsali Taylor adds a new dimension. Her new novel, the ninth in this engrossing series, opens on board the Swan, a yacht larger than Cass's own yacht Khalida, but smaller than the tall ship Sørlandet where she is second mate. On the Swan aspiring or experienced sailors can join the crew for short trips around Shetland, and that's how the story begins. 

Cass is one of three professionals aboard the Swan, which is hosting a family party: jocular businessman Stevie Shearer, his former hippy sister Amitola, and her two daughters, dreamy Moon and down-to-earth, politically minded Kirsten. A Mayday call from a fishing vessel interrupts Cass's sleep and triggers a series of events which include a murder, an unexplained death, and some revelations about the darker side of recent Shetland history. Cass does her best to leave the investigating to the police, but as usual she becomes more involved than she should and puts herself in danger, from the treacherously changeable weather as well as the as-yet unidentified bad guys.

Every new Marsali Taylor novel is different, and this one is no exception. All the same, it's hard to find superlatives that haven't been used before. All the usual suspects put in a welcome appearance: the redoubtable Maman, Magnie the veteran Shetlander, Cass's partner Gavin Macrae, the best kind of detective inspector, the less approachable Sergeant Freya Petersen, and of course Cat and his new companion Kitten.

As ever, in The Shetland Sea Murders she brings a whole way of life into focus, this time that of the handful of inhabitants of the tiny isle of Papa Stour, all sharply drawn individuals with a lifestyle that's subtly different from the people on the larger islands, but no less redolent of its own culture. For me this is Taylor's great strength. Anyone with a greater yen than mine for the sea will also revel in the wealth of detail about sailing.

And then there's the landscape: Shetland in all its variety, with sheer cliffs, hazardous rocks, hidden beaches, hills and dips in the ground. Plenty happens in the first few chapters, and it happens against a richly realized background that would do justice to any tourist guide; I almost felt as if I'd been aboard the Swan along with Cass, Magnie and Geordie and their passengers.

One thread which runs through the narrative is Cass's slightly uneasy decision to settle down in a cottage with Gavin, now based in Shetland. I hope this doesn't augur the end of the series, but somehow, I don't think it does; I can't see either of them staying away from the sea for long.   

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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