Scottish fiction

All posts in the Scottish fiction category

The Wages Of Sin – Kaite Welsh

Published August 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sarah Gilchrist has fled London and a troubled past to join the University of Edinburgh’s medical school in 1882, the first year it admits women. She is determined to become a doctor despite the misgivings of her family and society, but Sarah quickly finds plenty of barriers at school itself: professors who refuse to teach their new pupils, male students determined to force out their female counterparts, and—perhaps worst of all—her female peers who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman.

Desperate for a proper education, Sarah turns to one of the city’s ramshackle charitable hospitals for additional training. The St Giles’ Infirmary for Women ministers to the downtrodden and drunk, the thieves and whores with nowhere else to go. In this environment, alongside a group of smart and tough teachers, Sarah gets quite an education. But when Lucy, one of Sarah’s patients, turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into a murky underworld of bribery, brothels, and body snatchers.

Painfully aware of just how little separates her own life from that of her former patient’s, Sarah is determined to find out what happened to Lucy and bring those responsible for her death to justice. But as she searches for answers in Edinburgh’s dank alleyways, bawdy houses and fight clubs, Sarah comes closer and closer to uncovering one of Edinburgh’s most lucrative trades, and, in doing so, puts her own life at risk…

An irresistible read with a fantastic heroine, beautifully drawn setting, fascinating insights into what it was like to study medicine as a woman at that time, The Wages of Sin is a stunning debut that heralds a striking new voice in historical fiction.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Tinder Press for approving my request on NetGalley to read this extraordinary novel in exchange for an honest review. I saw Wages of Sin initially on Twitter and it ticked all the boxes for me as a reader. It’s a work of historical fiction (tick), set in Edinburgh (tick) in the Victorian era (tick) that involves a strong female lead character (tick) dealing with a mysterious murder (tick). With so much going for it, there is always the anticipation that it might not be as great as it sounds but luckily I had no worries at all on that account. This book was a fantastic and thrilling debut novel and a truly fascinating look into women in science at a time when it was slightly frowned upon in an arrogantly patriarchal society.

Our main character is Sarah Gilchrist, a highly intelligent woman who dreams of being a doctor but has to leave London after a scandal threatens her standing in the world. She becomes a medical student in Edinburgh and has to struggle on a daily basis with not only the derision of the male students but also the attitudes of her fellow women scholars who become suspicious of her past. Sarah works her fingers to the bone – studying, completing practical and written assessments for her training and then (if that wasn’t hard work enough) assisting a friend at her medical clinic, helping the poor, needy and often “women of ill repute.”

This is where she comes across Lucy, a prostitute who comes in begging for help with an unwanted pregnancy, of course completely illegal in these times. She is turned away only to turn up dead on the anatomy table the next time Sarah sees her. Sarah feels devastated at what has happened but also determined to unearth the secrets of her death, especially when she suspects foul play and discovers tenuous links between Lucy and a professor at the medical school. However, she is treading on very dangerous grounds as some people may desire the secrets that died with Lucy to remain buried and may not necessarily welcome Sarah’s interference.

The Wages Of Sin was an exciting, roller-coaster ride of a novel that had me hooked from page one. Kaite Welsh writes with such a canny eye for detail that you can sense everything in the narrative – the smells, the sounds, the sights and it is brilliantly gritty and difficult to put down once started. Sarah was a fantastic character who was flawed but inherently such a good person and I loved her dogged determination in getting at the truth behind an obviously grisly murder. One of my favourite things about this novel though had to be learning about what female medical students had to suffer when studying to become doctors. They went through abominable treatment being mocked on a daily basis for their choice of career and the lack of confidence in what they could achieve was quite honestly, disgusting. Thank goodness times have changed! For a debut novel, this is an amazing piece of work and so beautifully written. I thoroughly enjoyed every page and cannot wait to see what Kaite Welsh does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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Talking About The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne with Chrissi Reads

Published November 16, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.

But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity—that she, in fact, is Lydia—their world comes crashing down once again.

As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past—what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died?

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book before beginning?

BETH: I was immediately intrigued by the synopsis! I love contemporary fiction with a bit of a psychological or thriller edge and this story seemed to tick all of the right boxes. I hadn’t read anything by the author before (I think!) and I really enjoy finding new people to add to my “must read in the future if they bring out another book” list. It’s a book that is on the Richard and Judy Autumn Book Club list here in the UK and as you know, we always try to read the books that they recommend so I always look forward to those and, to top it all off, this book is set on a remote island in Scotland! As a proud Scot, I get stupidly excited about books that are set in the beautiful parts of my country.

BETH: Discuss if you think the relationship between Sarah and Angus has any effect on Kirstie’s well-being.

CHRISSI: I do think the relationship had an effect on Kirstie’s well-being. From working with children, I know that the smallest (and biggest) effect them massively. I don’t think we realise how much children are drinking in at times, even when we they’re busy, they’re still soaking up so much information. With Sarah and Angus, their marriage was crumbling right from the start. It would take a strong marriage to not be affected by what they were going through.

CHRISSI: There is a terrible dilemma at the heart of this novel that leads to the question- what would you do?

BETH: Ooh, this is so hard! Okay, so the dilemma is that after the horrific death of Lydia, one of the twins, the surviving twin Kirstie suddenly turns round and tells her mother that they made a mistake and she is in fact Lydia. The twins are identical, even their DNA would match and the twin that died has been cremated so there is no way to check which twin is which in retrospect. I’m actually a scientist and I think if I was the twin’s mother I would have desperately tried to find a scientific way in which we could check which twin had died and which one survived! It’s not a nice situation to be in and I think Sarah does a good job with how she deals with the situation. It is obvious her first priorities are with the mental well-being of the child left behind.

BETH: Do you think the photographs in the novel contributed anything to the atmosphere of the story?

CHRISSI: I always think it’s interesting when author’s include photographs. It doesn’t always work, but I think it did with this particular story. I feel like photographs don’t always work because sometimes they’re not how we imagine things in our heads. However, with this story I certainly got a sense of loneliness from the photographs. They matched the story perfectly.

CHRISSI: Unless you have read about the author before, the reader isn’t aware if the author is male or female. Do you think this matters? I personally thought it was a woman!

BETH: As I mentioned before, I haven’t come across the author before and it’s always interesting when they choose to use the initials of their first and middle name to keep us guessing as to their gender. I found out the gender of the author before I read this novel quite by accident but if I had to guess at a gender from the writing I would probably guess that they were female too! I hate to presume these things but sometimes there seems to be a certain style associated with male and female authors – however, I love being surprised and proved wrong.

BETH: There is a suggestion of a supernatural element to this story – do you believe in ghosts?

CHRISSI: Ooh, interesting question. I definitely believe in all things supernatural, even though it scares me sometimes. Well… all the time. I don’t know whether I’ve just got an overactive imagination, but I definitely think there’s SOMETHING there, and the hint of supernatural in this story was fascinating and so well done!

CHRISSI: Discuss the ending of the novel without spoilers if you can! What do you think life holds for the characters?

BETH: Oh dear. The ending of the novel provides a resolution of sorts I guess but I have to say I was extremely surprised by the way in which the author took it. I wasn’t expecting it at all and it was a bit more interesting than the resolution you might expect from this sort of novel. As for what life holds for the characters, it really could go either way. There are still a lot of issues within the family and perhaps follow up issues to come as Kirstie/Lydia is still quite young. I would actually love a follow up to this story – please S.K. Tremayne?

BETH: Would you read another book from this author?

CHRISSI: I certainly would. I was really impressed by S.K. Tremayne’s writing and would love to read more, especially in the psychological thriller genre. I LOVE the genre!

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

CHRISSI’s star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Entry Island – Peter May

Published May 11, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

When Detective Sime Mackenzie boards a light aircraft at Montreal’s St. Hubert airfield, he does so without looking back. For Sime, the 850-mile journey ahead represents an opportunity to escape the bitter blend of loneliness and regret that has come to characterise his life in the city.

Travelling as part of an eight-officer investigation team, Sime’s destination lies in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Only two kilometres wide and three long, Entry Island is home to a population of around 130 inhabitants – the wealthiest of which has just been discovered murdered in his home.

The investigation itself appears little more than a formality. The evidence points to a crime of passion: the victim’s wife the vengeful culprit. But for Sime the investigation is turned on its head when he comes face to face with the prime suspect, and is convinced that he knows her – even though they have never met.

Haunted by this certainty his insomnia becomes punctuated by dreams of a distant past on a Scottish island 3,000 miles away. Dreams in which the widow plays a leading role. Sime’s conviction becomes an obsession. And in spite of mounting evidence of her guilt he finds himself convinced of her innocence, leading to a conflict between the professional duty he must fulfil, and the personal destiny that awaits him.

What did I think?:

I became a fan of Peter May after reading his Lewis Trilogy so when I was approved for his latest novel Entry Island on NetGalley by Quercus Books, I was very excited so many thanks to them! One of the things I loved most about this book is that it is split into two stories which both have different time frames and are even set in different countries yet have a strange connection running through them. Our contemporary story is set in Canada and features our protagonist Detective Sime Mackenzie who is sent with an investigation team to the Gulf of St. Lawrence where a man has been stabbed to death in his own home. His wife, an apparent witness to the murder, described how an intruder entered the house and attacked her before stabbing her husband, but unfortunately all the evidence points to the wife being the culprit. This proves hard to digest for Sime as ever since first meeting her, he has the sense that he knows her, and he becomes desperate to prove her innocence.

The reader discovers that Sime’s ancestors were in fact from the Scottish Highlands and moved to Canada during the Highland Clearances in the 19th century. He vividly remembers his grandmother reading stories to him from one of his ancestors treasured diaries and in the historical portion of the novel, we are transported back to Scotland during that time, as Sime begins to dream of his ancestors story, who also happens to have the same name as him. This is where the connection to the contemporary comes in as he sees the wife of the murdered man, Kirsty in the place of his ancestors first love. I loved both the contemporary and the historical parts of the story, but found the 19th century Scottish parts so beautiful and compelling that it was hard to put the book down. May drags you willingly back to the times when the crofters toiled and struggled over their own land, enduring famine, illness and death while the rich landlords lived in splendour, poaching for fun and denying the poorer families a better way to make a living. Then the Highland Clearances came, and landlords had the power to eject the crofters from their land, placing the majority of them on boats out to Canada to get them out of the way, at times with considerable violence. As a Scot myself, I found these parts of the novel particularly emotional, and although I know a fair bit about my ancestors often tragic history, it gave me a sort of hunger and anger to learn more about it.

Sime as a character was wonderful to get to know (after suffering pangs of sadness for the end of the Lewis Trilogy!) and he undergoes a fair amount of heartbreak in this novel with what he has to deal with both personally and professionally. It did make me wish that this novel wasn’t a stand-alone, as I feel there is a lot we could still discover with Sime. As the investigation nears its end, the reader is left hanging until almost the very last moment to find out who exactly murdered Kirsty’s husband and their reasons behind it, and I loved that the author also finished his own ancestors story making all the connections between the past and present finally clear. This is a fantastic book by Peter May, who in my opinion just keeps getting better and better, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Chessmen (Lewis Trilogy #3) – Peter May

Published March 31, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The concluding part of the Lewis Trilogy. Fin Macleod, now head of security on a privately owned Lewis estate, is charged with investigating a spate of illegal game-hunting taking place on the island…

What did I think?:

This is the third and final instalment of Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy, set in the remote Western Isles in the Highlands of Scotland and I know for sure I have found myself a new favourite author – the fact that he is Scottish like myself is just an additional bonus, but he has a beautiful way of painting his landscape with words that make you feel like you know every inch of the island for yourself. The use of Scottish dialect such as “oxters” and “shoogle” really made me smile and was nice to see in a novel for me on a personal level. Our hero, Fin Macleod has returned to his home town in Lewis having retired from the police force and nets himself a job as the head of security on a private estate. The landlord, essentially Fin’s new boss is concerned with the amount of illegal poaching that is going on and requires Fin to nip it in the bud immediately. However, one of the suspected poachers is also one of Fin’s childhood friends, Whistler which puts Fin in a potentially tricky situation.

You might look at this synopsis and wonder at the direction Peter May is taking, and whether there is enough content here to work with and to develop a thrilling crime story. I must admit, I questioned it myself. However, I had nothing to fear, it wasn’t all about salmon snatching, our obligatory dead body does turn up and causes Fin a whole host of problems. The body is discovered sitting in a long-lost plane which has been buried for twenty years under a loch which has recently drained itself (an unlikely but true natural phenomenon) and exposed the crash site. Fin recognises the body as belonging to another childhood friend Roddy who formed part of a Celtic band that Fin helped out as a “roadie” when he was younger. And, guess what? The corpse shows evidence of a brutal death which Fin can’t help but investigate.

I’ve noticed some reviews of this book that veer towards the negative and it probably isn’t my favourite of the trilogy but I still really enjoyed the world that Peter May has created and have fallen in literary love with Fin Macleod as a character. What I found really nice about this book and the series in general is that I felt I learned a little something along the way. For example in The Blackhouse, the Guga hunt which still goes on to this day, in The Lewis Man we learn about the treatment of Catholic orphans sixty years or so ago and finally in The Chessmen I learned about the famous Lewis miniature chess figures, a group of 78 12th century pieces carved in walrus ivory which were thought to be one of the first medieval chess sets. A couple of reviewers have questioned the believability factor of May’s third novel but I really didn’t find this an issue or question it personally. Also, by referencing actual historical events, I feel that the author adds a little bit of authenticity into the story rather than take it away. It is a shame we’re not going to hear any more about Fin Macleod and part of me does wonder if I’d like to learn more about how he is coping with his son’s death and whether his relationship with Marsaili will have a happy ending. Do you think we can persuade him to write another?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Lewis Man (Lewis Trilogy #2) – Peter May

Published March 13, 2014 by bibliobeth

The Lewis Man (Lewis Trilogy, #2)

What’s it all about?:

A MAN WITH NO NAME. An unidentified corpse is recovered from a Lewis peat bog; the only clue to its identity being a DNA sibling match to a local farmer. A MAN WITH NO MEMORY. But this islander, Tormod Macdonald – now an elderly man suffering from dementia – has always claimed to be an only child. A MAN WITH NO CHOICE. When Tormod’s family approach Fin Macleod for help, Fin feels duty-bound to solve the mystery.

What did I think?:

This is the second book in the Lewis Trilogy, featuring Fin Macleod, a former police detective who has a troubled and heart-breaking past. When we meet him in The Lewis Man, he is finalising a divorce and escapes to the Scottish Highlands where he grew up to get away from it all for a while. However, when an unidentified corpse is dug out from a peat bog he can’t help himself and becomes heavily involved in the investigation. This is due to DNA tests being carried out on the body which reveal a sibling match to his old flame Marsaili’s father. Unfortunately for the police, the elderly man is suffering with a quite advanced form of dementia and his hazy recollections cannot be relied on.

The captivating story in this novel is told from a number of viewpoints which I loved. First we have our main character Fin Macleod whom I am really warming to in this series. The scenes that involve his interactions with Tormod, the elderly man with dementia, are both touching and heart-warming. Then we hear from Tormod himself, during the present where we get slivers of information about his muddled state of mind and when he is reminiscing about his childhood.  Some of the events he recalls are truly tragic and harrowing with additional titbits about how brutally orphans were treated during the 1950’s. As in the first novel, the author’s descriptive and rich prose brings the Outer Hebrides to life, and I was blown away by how the landscape seems intensely beautiful but in some ways, highly desolate. The answer to the mystery of the body in the peat bog is fascinating and one definitely worth the unravelling for the reader. Peter May is fast becoming one of my favourite authors in this genre and I can’t wait to read the third book in the series – The Chessmen.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0