Deadly Prospects by Clio Gray
(Urbane Publications £8.99 paperback)
BORN in Yorkshire, but a Highlander by residence, award-winning historical novelist Clio Gray has a knack for immersing herself in the lesser known byways of European history and geography, her past books taking in locations from Gothic Yorkshire mansions to chilly Baltic archipelagos and touching on topics ranging from lost libraries to travelling carnivals.
For this book, first in a new series set in Victorian Scotland, Gray does not need to look too far for inspiration, setting the novel against the background of the Kildonan gold rush in Sutherland in the 1860s (the book was previously released under the title The Brora Murders).
Gray takes a Dickensian delight in evocative names, part of a more general love of words that shines through her writing, but she also creates strikingly unique characters to match, like the determined Solveg McCleery, intent on bringing some prosperity to a community ravaged by poverty and the Clearances, whose path crosses with two very different men – the virile engineer Brogar Finn and linguistically gifted clerk Sholto McKay, sent to the Highlands by an early multinational with a nose for profit.
All three are quickly drawn into a murder investigation when a prospector’s body is discovered tied up in a sack close to some enigmatic carvings left on a rock.
More murders and mysteries follow. If there is one slight disappointment, it is that the killer gives themselves away a little too easily, but that sets up an exciting closing act with a race against time to prevent one final killing.
Richly evocative of a place and time less familiar to readers, it justifies a sequel.
So good to know one is on the way with Sholto and company heading across the Highlands to Strontian on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula for the second novel in the series, Burning Secrets.