Thursday, March 7, 2019

"The Gathering Murders" by Keith Moray

It’s perhaps inevitable to compare the Inspector Torquil McKinnon mysteries by Keith Moray to the Jimmy Perez mysteries by Ann Cleeves. Both are set on islands off northern Scotland (the Hebrides and Shetland, respectively). The heroes of both have small police forces (a sergeant and a constable). Both have rather gruesome murders committed generally in isolated places; remote islands have a lot of isolated places. 

But there is a major difference. The Torquil MacKinnon stories, at least as demonstrated in The Gathering Murders, seem to have an element of humor running through them, including a hard-drinking, motorcycle-riding Catholic priest who is MacKinnon’s uncle and who raised him from childhood.

Serious crime doesn’t seem to happen in a small town like West Uist in the Hebrides, until the annual Gathering and Literary Festival happens. As the festival begins, a local poet with an eye for the women, unmarried or not, whose major claim to local fame is his unregulated whiskey still, is found dead, the apparent victim of an accident. Then Fiona Cullen, the young woman already called “the queen of Scottish crime writers” who returns to her home island for the festival is found dead, and there’s nothing apparently accidental about it. She also happens to be Torquil MacKinnon’s old girlfriend who was strongly indicating her interest in rekindling their romance.

Keith Moray
MacKinnon discovers that his dead girlfriend had a tendency to write roman a clef mystery stories – thinly disguised accounts of people she knew and didn’t particularly like. From that literary perspective, suspects abound, and the inspector discovers that his once and future girlfriend not only got literary revenge against people she believed had hurt her, she also slept with just about anyone who could still breathe.

Moray has published five Inspector MacKinnon novels, with a sixth scheduled for later this year. He’s also published three historical novels, The Pardoner’s CrimeThe Fool’s Folly, and The Curse of the Body Snatchers; non-fiction books (under the pen name Keith Souter); and several westerns as Clay Moore. When he’s not writing, he practices medicine as a part-time doctor and medical journalist (he studied medicine at the University of Dundee). He lives in Yorkshire in England.

The Gathering Murders has a bit of rapid plot development toward the end, but that doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the story.

Top photo: the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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