by Hereward Proops
Review by Pat Black
We’re back for another helping of gruff Victorian detective Inspector Edmund Forrester in his first full-length adventure, The Sound of Shiant.
We’ve seen the London lawman taking on supernatural nasties in his native city as well as the wild west; in this brand new adventure, the grizzled Forrester goes to the Hebrides off the north-west coast of Scotland to probe the death of a young man. Forrester, a man given to his duty no matter how awkward the circumstances, takes the ferry up to the Isle of Lewis, a fish out of water away from the soot and grime of London.
There, he finds a god-fearing place under the corrupt influence of a hood named Murdo Macleod, a brutal man who owns most of the fishing fleet. He has a stranglehold on all industry on the islands, and officialdom in the palm of his hands – but Forrester’s flattened nose smells a rat in this operation. The inspector shares in a suspicion that the drowned young man was done away with at sea to lighten the load of Macleod’s fishing boat during a storm.
But there’s something more sinister than bad weather haunting the Sound of Shiant – we see this from the creepy opening chapter, when the crew of a stricken fishing boat succumbs to a hidden menace, one by one. But what is the connection between Macleod’s monopoly and the unseen terrors that lurk between the waves?
We get to learn a bit more about Forrester’s backstory in this one. Proops paints a picture of a melancholy man, left in the lurch by his wife Lilian after he becomes too obsessed with his job. He accepts his under-the-radar mission from his ex-wife’s new cousin, after he appears at her excruciating wedding ceremony in Glasgow. Most of us would be glad to just get that experience over with, if we were to show up at all, but Forrester is intrigued by the case of the dead fisherman and gladly heads to the highlands and islands to check it out.
He’s helped out by another member of his wife’s new family, Colin McCormick, a gallus twentysomething lad from Glasgow. This boy provides Forrester with a guide to island life, and also a few laughs before the real business of taking on Macleod begins.
There’s love in the air, too, as Forrester meets a spirited young lass at a fish processing unit (that old romantic cliché!) who may hold some clues to Mackinnon’s disappearance. And finally there’s a glorious Ben Gunn character, Jonah MacAskill, a hunchbacked accordion player who proves invaluable in the hunt.
Proops catches the dialect, and some of the hang-ups, of Scots very well; it’s never a chore to read, as some representations of regional speech can be. There are insights into island life weaved into the text in between plenty of action, as befits a book which takes on the mantle of pulp thrills. Forrester’s well handy in a brawl, and he needs every bit of meanness he can muster to face up to the ruthless Macleod, a plausibly nasty villain who rules his community by fear and is no stranger to spilled blood.
It all leads up to a creepy climax, revealing the secret of the Sound of Shiant as Forrester and Macleod memorably butt heads. A fine piece of action and adventure – you owe it to yourself to sniff this one out.
Click here to read the author interview.