ince she first appeared, sixteen years ago, in Driftnet, forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod has lived out the words of her infamous Scottish compatriot, the former Thane of Glamis:
“I am in blood
Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
Indeed, her creator Lin Anderson has included the fatal ‘D’ word in the titles of each successive novel from number eight, Picture Her Dead (2012) to this latest novel, the thirteenth in the series. For readers new to the novels, and I am one such, Anderson wastes no time in letting us know that Dr MacLeod is recovering physically and mentally from a terrible ordeal. She is on enforced sick leave, has taken herself away from her Glasgow base and rather than endure a spell in the official police rehabilitation unit at Castlebrae, has decided to revisit her teenage summer holiday haunts on the Isle of Skye.
Back in Glasgow, sometime colleague DS Michael McNab is carrying out duty of care for Rhona, of a sort, by daily Skype calls, but it is a close run thing which of the two is the more uncomfortable with these encounters.
t is now winter on Skye, and it is a very different place from the sunlit island Rhona knew as a teenager. As ever, the Black Cuillin broods over Glen Brittle and Sligachan, but now the crests of the peaks are white with the first snows. Rhona is reunited with Jamie McColl, a summer holiday friend and, through him, she meets the proprietors of A.C.E Target Sports, an outdoor adventure facility – and their dog, Blaze. Rhona takes Blaze for a walk – or vice versa – but as the December light begins to fail:
“They had reached a small break in the tree cover. Rhona registered the sound of a burn running somewhere close by. A bird rose with a harsh call that startled her, raising her heartbeat.
As she drew alongside the dog, it turned to lick her hand, whining a little.
‘What is it boy? What’s wrong?’
Everything, the answering whine told her. Everything about this place is wrong.‘Show me, Blaze. Show me what you’ve found.’”
We are now on page 29 of 425, but Lin Anderson (right) has already established an intriguing parallel narrative, the significance of which we can only guess at this stage. As the novel unfolds, however the mists begin to clear, although the full significance of this sub-plot, and how it converges, horrifically, with Rhona MacLeod’s supposed recuperation, only becomes clear in the last few pages.
ithout, I hope, giving away any of the beautiful intricacies of this novel, I can say that a group of serving RAMC medics, on leave, have decided to visit Skye to see if the resilience and courage they showed in the face of the implacable brutality of Helmand Province and the Taliban will be, in any way, tested by the wintry glens and screes of Skye. What befell them in Afghanistan, and how those events play out on Eilean a’ Cheo, the Misty Isle, is for you to discover.
Time For The Dead is a brilliantly written thriller, as hard as nails in places, but also gloriously Romantic, in the nineteenth century sense of nature being a formidable force, with mountain chasms, storm washed beaches and human beings clinging on by the skin of their teeth. It is a police procedural at its heart, but one that is as black as the sand on Skye beaches. Published by Macmillan, it is out on 8th August.
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