A.D. Scott’s intriguing mystery, A Double Death on the Black Isle, is set in the 1950s in the Scottish Highlands. If townsfolk want to keep tongues from wagging and dodge the stares of neighbors, they better avoid pregnancy before marriage, working on the Sabbath and being caught in a public bar (only if they’re female). In this community, local customs and gossip play commanding roles, and though it’s a small enough town, there’s still room for a little enmity between the farmers and the fishermen, the year-rounders and the nomadic Traveling People.
The mystery kicks in when fisherman Sandy Skinner, newly married “above his station” to Patricia Ord Mackenzie—a member of the estate-owning Highland gentry—dramatically plunges over the Falls of Foyers to certain death. That same day, the volatile Fraser Munro, whose family manages the estate’s lands, is found dead in a ditch near Devil’s Den. Coincidence or connection?
We join the cast and crew of the Highland Gazette, a newly re-launched newspaper, as they rush to cover the story of a fishing boat that’s been bombed and sunk, followed in quick succession by the two unexplained deaths on neighboring Black Isle. Scott, who is also the author of A Small Death in the Great Glen, book one in this Highland series, draws readers right into the sights, sounds and nostalgia of a small-town newspaper, where reporters still hit the streets in search of a story and deadline day is an adrenaline rush of untangling loose ends.
Joanne Ross, a typist and budding reporter at the Gazette, is the protagonist of this novel, although my favorite character may be reporter Rob McLean, who is ambitious, funny and quick at nosing out a story. He’s got his eye on the future, although readers will be very disappointed if he takes another job and exits this series. Memorable characters also include Hector Bain—he of the green cap and orange hair and a passion for photography—and the Black Isle residents themselves, who sneak one and all into your reading consciousness, like Janet Ord Mackenzie (mother of Patricia), whose gothic air and ring-bedecked pointy finger remind Joanne’s young daughter of the queen in Snow White.
A Double Death on the Black Isle is filled with alliteration and atmosphere. Just about every character seems to be related somehow, and it’s occasionally difficult to keep the Allies, Agneses and Alistairs all straight. However, the end result is worth sticking around for and readers will be left anticipating the next installment.