Most of the narrative action of the three-part novel Secrets of the Shetlands by Michael Phillips takes place in the first two books, The Inheritance and The Cottage. By the end of the second book, we know that David Tulloch, the chief of the small island called Whale’s Reef, and Loni Ford, the new American laird (or lord) of the island, are falling in love. Hardy Tulloch, David’s cousin and one-time rival for the lairdship before Loni was found, has been arrested for murder. There’s not much left to tell in the story.
Or is there?
The Legacy concludes the three-part novel. I wasn’t quite sure how much of the story was left – a wedding, perhaps? But Phillips didn’t disappoint. The Legacy is both a continuation of the contemporary story of David and Loni and almost a novel within a novel – the story of Loni’s great-grandparents, Brogan Tulloch and Emily Hanson, and how they met and fell in love in 1924. It also explains how and why Brogan, the eldest son and the expected next laird, gave up his position, moved to America, and married Emily. In other words, it explains where Loni came from and how she ended up inheriting Whale’s Reef.
Are The Legacy and its two predecessors literary creations or great literature? No. Are they good stories? Absolutely. Are they addictive? You bet – they are the kinds of books that makes it almost irritating to have to stop to eat a meal, run an errand, or talk to other people in the house.
In addition to telling the story of Loni’s great-grandparents, The Legacy also explores the meaning of faith, the idea of being centered in faith, why the idea of land is important (the idea, not the land itself), the transmission of values from generation to generation, and even the idea of redemption (Hardy Tulloch is a character that is so obnoxious that the reader almost wishes he can’t be redeemed).
Phillips is the author of 23 works of non-fiction. He’s edited 27 works of the Scottish writer George MacDonald, whose books had such an impact on C.S. Lewis. He’s edited five woks of Harold Bell Wright and Ralph Connor. He’s also co-authored 13 novels with his wife Judith Pella, and written more than 40 original novels on his own.
The Secrets of the Shetlands is a wonderful series, but be warned – you won’t be satisfied with a sip here and a sip there. You will want to take great big gulps of this big story. And now it’s entirely possible to do that, since The Legacy was published July 4 and all three can be read together.
Top photograph: A view of Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands, via Shetland.org.