This month I felt like I was getting back to my old ways as far as the number of books I read went. I used to average two books a week, but haven’t managed that for years. This month I read seven books which, whilst not quite two a week, was the best I’ve done in a while.
My tally for the month went up mainly because of my discovery last month of Marsali Taylor’s ‘Cass’ books. I read the first in the series last month, had another couple of paperbacks in the series with me in Shetland and quickly downloaded the rest on my Kindle. I then spent the first few weeks of the month ploughing through them.
Of course, being on holiday the entire month in Shetland and Orkney also gave me plenty of time for reading.
Read on to find out more about what I read in August.
The Trowie Mound Murders by Marsali Taylor
This is the second in the series of detective novels starring the sailing-mad Shetlander Cass Lynch and the kilt-wearing Scottish Inspector Gavin Macrae.
Cass becomes concerned when a visiting sailing couple disappear and starts to investigate. She finds herself getting mixed up with international art thieves and at the same time learning more about the truth behind local mythology connected to a neolithic tomb – the ‘trowie mound’ of the title (a trowie or trow is a short, ugly, mischievous creature in Shetlandic mythology, similar to the trolls in Scandinavian folklore). She also acquires a cat.
A Handful of Ash by Marsali Taylor
This is the third book in the series. Sailor Cass Lynch has moved to Scalloway to attend the Marine College, though she still lives aboard her boat. One night she finds the body of the daughter of the couple she works for lying in a doorway with her hand smeared with ash.
Of course she investigates and becomes embroiled with a local coven of witches (or are they just bored teenagers with wannabe witch syndrome?).
One of the things I like about this series of books is that I learn more about Shetland with each one. For instance, I knew nothing about the witches of Shetland’s past until I read this book. Part of the story refers to the exhibition on witches in the Scalloway Museum and as I was in Shetland, I was able to go along and see it for myself.
The Body in the Bracken by Marsali Taylor
In the fourth book in the series, sailor Cass Lynch is persuaded to spend Christmas with detective Gavin Macrae at his mother’s house by an isolated loch in Scotland. Of course they find a dead body. Once back in Shetland Cass hears of a local man who has disappeared. Could the body be his?
Local folklore is brought into the story in the form of a njuggle which is a mysterious horse-like creature that lives underwater and surfaces to drown any passersby.
Ghosts of the Vikings by Marsali Taylor
This is currently the last book in the series, however there is a sixth in the works. I know this because just before I left Shetland I did my last day ritual of going round my favourite shops in Lerwick and stocking up on things I won’t be able to get until my next visit (Crofter’s shower gel from the Shetland Soap Company, the world’s best cheesecake from the Peerie Cafe and books from the Shetland Times Bookshop that can only really be found in Shetland).
It was in the Shetland Times Bookshop that I met Marsali Taylor who just happened to be doing a kind of ‘this is what the author looks like when she’s working’ day with a mock-up of her desk at home and a display of her books. I chatted with her for a while about the Cass books and her most recent non-fiction books (I bought both and got them signed) and she told me she’s writing the next Cass Lynch book.
But back to this book, the fifth in the series. It’s set on Unst which just happens to be my favourite island in my favourite archipelago, so of course that was always going to be a winner for me. Cass’s opera singer mother is performing at the recently restored Belmont House (this is a real place) and Cass is there to watch her. There’s a storm, the power goes off, a body is found. All very Agatha Christie. Except I don’t remember any of Agatha Christie’s books involving Viking ghosts.
Many of the locations in the book are places that I’ve just recently visited and I loved being able to revisit them in the story. I’m already looking forward to the next book coming out.
For more on Marsali Taylor and her books (and pictures of Cass’s yacht Khalida and the locations used in the books) check out her website here.
The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths
Not a Shetland-based book this time, but a Norfolk one. I’m a big fan of this Elly Griffiths series, not just because the stories are great (they are), but because her protagonist – archaeologist Ruth – is so ordinary. She’s a slightly overweight, heading for middle-age, single mum who works full-time. She doesn’t have a three inch layer of perfect make-up and doesn’t spend an hour straightening her hair every morning. How nice is it to have a main character that so many women can relate to?
In this story, Ruth is called to investigate when builders discover human bones in the bowels of an old Norwich building. It’s presumed the bones must be old hence the need for an archaeologist. Ruth soon realises that they aren’t as old as they seem and the police become involved. A homeless man disappears and a man in a cloak vanishes into the earth. Can answers be found in the mysterious tunnels that lie beneath modern-day Norwich?
Without Fail by Lee Child
Another month, another Lee Child. I can’t have that many of these implausible action thrillers left to read. In this one the main character, loner Jack Reacher, finds himself summoned to help protect the Vice-President of the United States from an assassination threat. As usual the story twists and turns and Reacher proves himself to be both smarter and tougher than the assassins and the members of the VP’s security team.
These books are pure page-turning escapism. Which I suppose is why I enjoy them so much.
How to be a Detective: An Introduction to Shetland’s Archaeology for Bairns of All Ages by Val Turner
This book was written more than 20 years ago by Shetland’s chief archaeologist and was intended to be used in primary schools throughout the isles to help children learn about the ancient man-made environment around them. Although as text books go this is now old and probably not used in schools anymore, I still found it relevant. I picked up my copy from a ‘for sale’ shelf full of them in Lerwick library. Being aimed at young children meant it was a quick read, but I learnt quite a bit as it was pitched at about my level of knowledge of archaeology! Sometimes you just need a kid’s book to put things into layman’s terms.
What have you read recently? And what do you think of what I read in August? Share your thoughts in the comments below.