Written by Marsali Taylor — Crime novels set in Shetland are very much like buses – you wait for ages, then two come along together! I had just finished Ann Cleeves’ Dead Water when Death on a Longship appeared on my Kindle screen. Could I cope with another dose of Scotland at its most desolate?
I gave myself a few days before wading into the waters again – and was surprised to find that Shetland was just as appealing second time around. It provides a stunning setting, with a beauty and desolation that lends itself well to untimely death.
Originally from Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, Marsali Taylor has lived in Shetland for many years and her love of the place shines through. She is an accomplished sailor, and has passed many of her skills, and even her boat, on to Cass Lynch, the heroine of Death on a Longship. Like her heroine, Taylor owns an eight metre keelboat, and has passed her Yachtmaster exam. And she knows the setting of her novel very well, as she teaches sailing at Brae, and considers the waters of Swarback’s Minn to be her extended back garden.
I must say the title had me worried, and I was conjuring up pictures of Vikings raping, pillaging and killing, until I read the blurb and realised that any mad Norse folk featured within were mere actors – because the longship of the title is a replica used for the filming of a blockbuster movie starring Hollywood’s most famous married couple, Favelle Baker and Ted Tarrant.
Between sailing jobs, Cass is tending tables at a swanky restaurant in Norway when she realises the well-heeled customers she is serving are discussing production plans for a new film featuring a Viking longship. She leaps in feet first and wrangles the job as skipper. It’s a move which takes her back to Shetland, where she spent her childhood, and the place she ran away from as a teenager. Can she put past ghosts to rest and prove she is up to the task at hand?
All seems to be going swimmingly – until the body of a woman is found on the longship deck. She has been murdered – and Cass herself is under suspicion. Enter Detective Inspector Gavin Macrae, a shrewd, kilt-wearing outsider with a neat habit of tying angling flies as he cogitates. Can she convince him of her innocence – and solve the mystery of who committed the murder? There are myriad complications to muddy the waters – several attempts are made at sabotaging the film shoot, the film’s star has been receiving threatening letters, and just where has Cass’s Norwegian shipmate Anders been disappearing to? Add a dash of local discontent about proposed wind farms and you’ve enough red herrings to fill a Shetland fishing boat.
I enjoyed the nautical slant on this tale but there are some loose ends which are never quite tied off, leaving me feeling a little short-changed. Overall, however, it is an enjoyable read – and with another Cass Lynch/Gavin Macrae book on the horizon, it looks like we’re in for the long-haul.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars