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on 28 September 2011
I downloaded this book for only 86p. I am always sceptical of anything that is cheaper that the usual price. I must admit that I was really surprised and I found it hard to put down. The characters are very alive, except the ones that have been murdered. There is a good intertwining plot, which keeps one guessing for most of the book. I know the location well and found that I was literally walking about St. Andrews with the characters. I am now looking forward to reading the next one.
35 people found this helpful
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on 29 July 2014
Despite a decent plot (involving murder, witchcraft, "unnatural" lusts and adultery), a novel (no pun intended) setting and likeable central characters, I had a real struggle finishing this book.

Firstly, presumably for the sake of providing a sense of authenticity, the author has the characters speaking in a kind of Shakespearean style language, the more so as the book progressed (or perhaps I only noticed it the further into the book I got). For me, this is completely unnecessary (we know when the story is set and a feel of authenticity is given by frequent reference to the lifestyles and worldviews of the characters in the story) and simply makes the book difficult to read.

Secondly, and most noticeably (and presumably as part of the search for authenticity), the author uses a lot of archaic Scottish words many of which are not in the Kindle dictionary, so you have to guess their meaning from the context. This makes the book even more difficult to read.

Lastly, apart from the specific criticisms raised above, I found the author's style heavy-handed. At times it felt to me like she thought she was writing great literature, using quite poetical language or imagery to describe settings or scenes, which actually made it quite difficult to picture what she was actually trying to describe.

An author's style is very much a matter of personal taste, but I struggled with this book despite it having a good storyline and despite the fact that I read quite a bit of historical crime fiction. I was torn between two stars (style) and three stars (content) but in the end content won over style.
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on 3 November 2011
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I had never read anything connected with a Scottish university in the 16th century before - it sounds dry but was far from it. Hew Cullan is likeable and his sister and friends are too. The twists in the plot kept me reading, and the constant fear that some poor woman was to be sacrificed as a witch niggled at me throughout. Technically the book explains early methods of dying and the cloth trade - intriguing. And who would want to be an undergraduate in the 16th century after reading this story? Well, you might if you had enough money to light a fire for warmth!
10 people found this helpful
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on 17 August 2013
This is set in and around St Andrew's university, which makes an interesting change. Fortunately the author does not attempt Ye Olde language although there is some appropriate use of dialect. The characters are developed within their social classes, and the selection procedures to enter the university are very different, yet curiously similar to the present day's! The story centres around Huw Cullan's return to his home after some years in France training, or not, for the legal profession. He is disillsioned with the way the Law is administered and disgusted by what are considered appropriate punishments. His father was an eminent lawyer who wishes his son to follow his path. How Huw becomes involved in murder, bigotry and medicine makes for an interesting read that keeps your attention without being too taxing...... but I did learn more about the ancient skills of the dyer than strictly necessary.
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on 19 June 2014
Set in St Andrews in the early reign of James 6th this was a reasonable story with some sympathetic characters & what appeared to be a good deal of research into some historical aspects, especially of law. I don,t know what it is about historical novelists which make them think that I will find the story more authentic if they refer to "breaking your fast" rather than "breakfast" but this author does fall into that cliche. She also finds it necessary to give the central male character a significant horse, although it never really appears to have much relevance to the story & she doesn't appear to know a lot about horses - her character would be hard pressed to find a lot between a horse's shoulder blades let alone have, or expect to have, any effect hitting it there. But it was a likeable tale
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on 15 October 2014
I did quite enjoy reading this book. Although the plot was interesting it was very convoluted with many threads and I'm not sure all the loose ends were tied up to my satisfaction. I didn't find it difficult to get into or difficult to read at all but just felt a bit dissatisfied at the end. I quite liked Hew as a character although I felt we didn't learn much about him. I did appreciate the name of his horse, Dun Scottis, which is a pun on the name of the 13th century scholar, Duns Scotus. Good enough, I think, to try another of this author's books.
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VINE VOICEon 18 August 2014
The author's decision to cram as much as possible into the plot merely serves to confuse and make the book less satisfactory. Pretty much every trope that you've ever heard of (wise herbalist, bullying schoolboys, hard-hearted relatives, accusations of witchcraft just to mention a small fraction) plus some that, probably for good reason, have never been tried before (comedy horse anyone?). The net effect is that most of them never come to any conclusion and those that do are mostly resolved by some sort of deus ex machina.
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on 24 August 2015
This is a far less sensational novel than most others of the genre, in the sense that the author restricts herself to two murders, one accidental poisoning and one unexplained disappearance. Readers anticipating fights to the death, miraculous escapes from impossible situations, all topped with improbable coincidences, will find themselves distinctly disappointed.
Nevertheless the story never flags, and the reader is drawn steadily to its satisfactory conclusion.
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on 25 May 2014
If you like historical sleuthing, you will enjoy shirley mckay's series of huw cullen stories. My first taste of this genre was, of course, ellis peters' cadfael, and for me, she's the best so far. Perhaps that's spoiled me a little as I found mckay's characterisations and situations a tad cliched at times and uses too many modern detective litetary devices ( you know the sort of thing, lonely copper .with a few bitter sweet romances behind him) However, don't let that put you off, they are still a very enjoyable read and I read the first three one after the other!
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on 1 November 2017
Thoroughly enjoying this as an ex-St.Andrews student. The descriptions are excellent and wonderful to imagine the place so long ago. Characterisation is engaging as is the plot.
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