It's 1950 in the western Highlands of Scotland. Little Jamie Fraser has gone missing on his way home from school and Joanne Ross's daughters, Annie and Wee Jean, were the last ones to see him alive: "We saw him," she [Wee Jean] explained, "me and Annie, we saw this great big black hoodie crow. He opens the door, all of a sudden like, an' he spreads out his wings . . . and he picks up Jamie in his wings and takes him . . . ." When Jamie is later found dead in the canal and the coroner determines the boy was "interfered with" and murdered, Joanne and her coworkers at the local newspaper wonder--Do the girls actaully know something, or is it just their imaginations trying to make sense out of the death of a friend?
"A Small Death in the Great Glen" is Scottish writer A. D. Scott's debut novel in what looks to be a very promising new series centered around a local newspaper in Inverness, Scotland during the 1950s when the scars of World War II were still red and raw. While the plot of the story turns on the murder of the young boy Jamie, the theme revolves around abuse--child abuse; spousal abuse; alcohol abuse; the abuse of power and position, both civic and religious--and the community's silent acceptance that enables such abuse to continue.
The narrative juggles multiple plot threads that are woven into and around the hunt for Jamie's killer. There's Joanne, a part-time typist for the Highland Gazette, a job of which her husband, Bill Ross, greatly disapproves. Their marriage is one of constant mental and physical tension but divorce is not an acceptable option 1950s rural Scotland. Also, there's Joanne's Italian friend, Chiara, whose family has settled in Scotland after fleeing Italy during the war and now owns a successful cafe in town. She's engaged to Peter Kowalski, a Polish imigrant. Then there's the Polish seaman who jumped shipped hoping to find asylum. Not everyone is eager to embrace those from outside their country's borders. And when Jamie is murdered, the natives naturally look to the outsiders for the killer. The seaman makes a very convenient scapegoat for Inspector Thompson who doesn't see the reason for looking any further when the solution is so obvious. Add in the Tinkers, Scotland's roving band of gypsies who aren't anxious to come forward with their knowledge of events, and the Gazette's editor-in-chief, John McAllister, who has his own mystery concerning his brother's suicide to solve, and you have a constantly shifting flow of action and perspective with a meanwhile-back-at-the-ranch quality that keeps you thoroughly engaged.
While there are some abrupt shifts between storylines that can be somewhat jarring, "A Small Death in the Great Glen" is packed with plots, personalities and all the drama of a close-knit community struggling to adjust to a post-war world. Yet the story never loses sight of the central plot and ties off all the seemingly loose threads neatly in the end. I'm very much looking forward to the sequel that is due to be released in the summer of 2011.