Small Death in the Great Glen - A. D. Scott, John Keating

Why did I read it? One of the members of the Read Scotland 2017 group read, and reviewed it. After reading the synopsis, and the reviews, including the negative ones, and noting it was available in audio format, I decided to listen to it.

 

What's it about? A young boy goes missing in a Scottish Highlands town on his way home from school. The next morning he is found in a canal, and his two young companions claim he was snatched by a 'hoodie crow', a creature from folklore. No-one takes the girls story seriously, and blame is foisted on a foreigner who has jumped ship to escape the troubles in the Poland of the 1950s. The accusations begin to affect another Polish settler that first helped the fugitive, and his Italian fiancé’s family, who are still viewed at outsiders. Slowly, the staff of the Highland Gazette start to see through the 'hoodie crow' guise, and piece together the last hours of the tragic, young Jamie's life.

 

What did I like? This is not your typical crime novel. It's very slow paced, exploring the minutiae of life in a small town, in the Highlands of Scotland, in the 1950s. An exploration of the psychology of the town's inhabitants, as well as the culture. The behaviour of the (small) townsfolk is exposed: secretly knowing and even acknowledging the problems of others, but scared of being ostracised if they dare speak openly, or interfere; the lack of charity, or forgiveness of the Presbyterian inhabitants, and the suffering endured because of this attitude. Doing what is seen to be right, rather than what is right. The investigation into the assault, and murder of the young boy serving as a means to expose what lies beneath the surface of the town’s respectability.

 

The characters, though many, are whole, flawed, and well developed. Each with their own storyline, it was clear that the author intended more than one book about these characters, and the town.

 

I liked the descriptive phrases, the time taken to set a scene. I liked spending time with the various characters, and their private worlds, and inner thoughts. I also like that for all that description, the author refrains from going into details of various crimes found in the book. The reactions of the characters to what they see, and hear is enough to get the gist.

 

The audio recording was clear, and without issue.

 

What didn't I like? The author did have a tendency to go roaming, and take a very long time to return to the [a?] central plot. This did become a bit tedious at times.

 

I first encountered the narrator, John Keating, in the Irish Country Doctor series. While he did his best to provide appropriate accents for some characters, there was the odd issue of pronunciation that stood out. Sometimes his voice characterization worked; other times it just didn’t.

 

Now, the ending: It was particularly disappointing. I am still not sure if ended the way it did, in one very short, chapter, because the author wanted the reader to empathise with the disappointment of one of the main characters; or it was laziness and a quick way to wrap the whole thing up. Either way, I found it dis-satisfactory.

 

Would I recommend it? If you're a crime reader, and you like the sole focus to be on the investigation, and only the characters directly involved with said crime, then this isn't for you. If you like fast paced stories, that race you to the end perched on the edge of your seat, then this book isn't for you. If you like to just glimpse a character, or place as it is relevant to a storyline, then this also may not be the book for you.

 

If you like to take your time exploring a place, its people, and its culture, revelling in the everyday, the ordinary lives, then this could be a book for you. It is primarily a crime novel, but it is also the story about a particular time, and place.