Written by Craig Watson — Edinburgh-based indie publisher Thunderpoint made its own debut back in 2013. Over the last three years, it has published an eclectic mix of novels by both established and new authors. Journalist-turned-writer Craig Watson is the latest member of the Thunderpoint stable to make his debut with an historical mystery set in 14th century Scotland.
Watson has taken two well known names from the period and woven a story around them – Christie-Cleek and The Wolf of Badenoch. His tale centres around three men – Brodie Affleck, David Christie, and Alexander Stewart. As you begin reading, it seems they are unconnected but the mystery here is the links between their individual stories.
The story begins 20 years after the execution of Sir William Wallace, one of the main leaders in the Scottish struggle for independence from the English crown. It’s a time when Scotland was still a very dangerous place. Various factions fought one another between bouts with the English, and there were outbreaks of plague and years of famine. All of which affected every strata of the population.
In 1327, six-year-old Brodie enters Restenneth Priory to be cared for and trained by the monks. Not an an unusual occurrence for the time, despite his age. Life for him is all about prayer and service, which involves working with the prior’s livestock, working on the land, and most importantly, being trained to become a scribe.
Almost a decade later, a series of attacks by rival factions changes the lives of both Brodie – now a lay brother – and the butcher’s son, David Christie. For Christie, it’s watching his home being destroyed and his mother and sister raped and murdered by soldiers. David Christi and his younger brother Duncan must fend for themselves to survive… and eventually cannibalism comes into it. So begins the legend of the Christie Cleek, a man known for killing and eating his victims.
With the imminent arrival of the exiled King David II, Brodie’s priory is also attacked, pillaged of its valuables and the young monk’s tutor is murdered. Brodie takes over his master’s duties as scribe and in doing so he discovers a parchment dating back to the day he was taken into the priory. Herein lies the first part of the mystery, who is Brodie Affleck?
When Christie is captured, having taken the wife of the future Robert II hostage, his brother goes on the run and arrives at Restenneth Priory seeking sanctuary. Brodie lets him in – a decision that will tie both men’s futures together forever.
Alexander Stewart is a man with a vicious reputation who kills for enjoyment, hence his nickname, The Wolf of Badenoch. He’s on the hunt for Brodie and Duncan. The third surviving illegitimate son of Robert II, his parentage is called into question and this forms the final mystery. Particularly as his birth occurs nine months after his mother was held hostage. Is Robert really his father?
Written in a format reminiscent of a chronicle, there’s a fair amount of scene-setting before the mystery element of the story really starts to get going almost half way through the book. The main problem with this, particularly in the early chapters, is the fact that the narrative jumps between Brodie and Christie in a way that leaves you a tad disorientated as to who you’re with. While Brodie plays the more central role as investigator and chronicler, it takes ages for him to progress each stage and things get drawn out.
While it’s an interesting read, in some ways, it feels heavy on the history but a little light on the mystery. A scholarly debut that is best read in ebook format as its full of terminology that requires exploration.
Fans of medieval crime fiction would also enjoy Susanna Gregory’s Matthew Batholomew novels.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars