The Stillman by Tom McCulloch (Sandstone Press, £8.99)
FROM a brooding winter setting in the Highlands of Scotland to the sweaty, azure backdrop of Cuba, McCulloch weaves a compelling tale which offers an insight into the life and loves of Jim Drever.
He’s the stillman of the title, a man who appears most at ease when tending to the burbling, idiosyncratic machinery which he knows inside and out and which appears to offer some comfort and certainty in his troubled life.
Jim is growing increasingly distant from his family, perhaps a function of the unexplained childhood abandonment which has left so many unanswered questions. He’s constantly on guard with his wife, who is subject to mood swings dependent on the quantity of alcohol she has consumed or the latest state of play with her daughter’s hurried wedding arrangements.
His oddball teenage son remains a mystery to Jim who fails even to get much release at a workplace threatened by industrial action and peopled by colleagues he would prefer to ignore.
A man inclined to live within his own head, cross-referencing his real life experiences with the movies he obsesses over, Jim is shaken from his everyday existence with the arrival of a string of emails from his dead mother.
McCulloch offers a convincing insight into what it is to be Scottish – indeed what it is to be a human being – while building a thoroughly absorbing story which flits back effortlessly between the Highlands and Cuba. Often poetic and with generous dashes of black humour, The Stillman builds satisfyingly towards an ending that keeps you guessing until the last page. Hector Mackenzie