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Thursday 26 October 2023

‘The Scourge of The Skua’ by Wendy Percival

Published by Old Key Press,
30 June 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-83808607-7 (PB)

The Scourge of the Skua is Percival’s fifth novel featuring genealogist Esme Quentin. At the start of the story Esme has just moved into a cottage on the Devon coast and is researching the family history of a client’s partner. When she discovers a 100-year-old murder in the family, Esme is bemused by her client’s strange reaction and subsequent lack of communication. As she has no instruction to follow up this discovery, Esme gets on with sorting out junk left by the previous owners in the outbuilding she intends to turn into her office. There she finds a 17th-century map which bears the name Chalacombe, and she learns from locals that this family has a few skeletons rattling around.

The arrival of a journalist, an unwelcome visitor from her past, whose researches are covering similar ground makes Esme think again. Another ancient crime comes to light which may link the Chalacombe family with the murder. Old enmities are also discovered, and there are people around who may be keen to keep the past (their past, perhaps) quiet. Who exactly are Isaac Maudesley and Frank Stone?

And so, we continue with a genuinely entertaining and constantly engaging plot, with the North Devon coast and Lundy in particular taking centre stage. Although the novel ranges widely, through antiques, a last will and testament, the building of a new museum, a school closure, Morocco, 18th-century Barbary pirates and alleged missing treasure amongst other things, it is never far-fetched. In the middle of it all is a missing Claddagh ring, intended to be handed down through the female line, the search for which seems at times to be at the forefront of various minds. Such is the detail in Esme’s genealogical research that readers really have to keep their wits about them to be on top of family relationships, as they do with other shifting relationships. Do we really know who we can trust?

Esme’s friends, particularly Libby and Maddy, keep her feet on the ground. One is a restorer of antiques and the other an artist, and with the building of a new museum of considerable importance in the story there is an aura of arts and crafts. With a genealogist as detective, the book is always going to be about revelations in the past. As it comes to a conclusion these become increasingly crucial, and lead to a dramatic conclusion.

This is the first novel in this series that I have read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The short chapters keep the action moving along and my interest never faltered. It’s difficult to avoid the cliché of it being a page-turner, but it is. I genuinely wanted to know what happened. If you haven’t read any of this series, I keenly encourage you to do so.
Reviewer: David Whittle

Wendy Percival was born in the West Midlands and grew up in rural Worcestershire. After training as a primary school teacher, she moved to North Devon to take up her first teaching post and remained in teaching for 20 years. An impulse buy of Writing Magazine prompting her to start writing seriously. She won the magazine's 2002 Summer Ghost Story Competition and had a short story published before focusing on full length fiction. The time honoured ‘box of old documents’ in the attic stirred her interest in genealogy. When she began researching her Shropshire roots she realised how little most of us know about our family history.  This became the inspiration behind the first Esme Quentin novel, Blood-Tied.  Wendy continues to be intrigued by genealogy, its mysteries and family secrets and writes about this in her family history.

David Whittle is firstly a musician (he is an organist and was Director of Music at Leicester Grammar School for over 30 years) but has always enjoyed crime fiction. This led him to write a biography of the composer Bruce Montgomery who is better known to lovers of crime fiction as Edmund Crispin, about whom he gives talks now and then. He is currently convenor of the Midlands Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association.

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