Douglas Skelton is one of my favourite Scottish Crime Writers and I was delighted when I heard that he had been signed by Polygon Books for his latest novel, Thunder Bay. Everything that this author has written has blown me away but with Thunder Bay, he has just taken it to a new level! Thanks to Polygon and to Douglas Skelton for the review copy.
I’m delighted to be sharing my review today on publication day!
Before I share my thoughts, here’s what the official blurb says:
When reporter Rebecca Connolly is told of Roddie Drummond’s return to the island of Stoirm she senses a story. Fifteen years before he was charged with the murder of his lover, Mhairi. When he was found Not Proven, Roddie left the island and no one, apart from his sister, knew where he was or what he was doing. Now he has returned for his mother’s funeral – and it will spark an explosion of hatred, bitterness and violence.
Defying her editor’s wishes, Rebecca joins forces with local photographer Chazz Wymark to dig into the secrets surrounding Mhairi’s death, and her mysterious last words of Thunder Bay, the secluded spot on the west coast of the island where, according to local lore, the souls of the dead set off into the after life. When another murder takes place, and the severe weather that gives the island its name hits, she is ideally placed to uncover the truth about what happened that night fifteen years before.
They say never judge a book by its cover but in this instance, I think it is perfectly acceptable to do so! The cover of Thunder Bay is dynamite, luring you in like a siren song and then when you open up and start reading you will be well and truly mesmerised and trapped!
The prologue sets the scene for the reader and warns them that a dark but compelling read lies ahead. There is something about the Scottish islands that set off a dark fear inside of me; Douglas Skelton paints a picture of the fictional Island of Stoirm as an inherently sinister, eerie, isolated and enclosed way of life and with Thunder Bay, he delivers that darkness like a shroud. I could feel a sense of panic rise from the outset as we live Mhairi’s final moments with her and it didn’t let up all the way through.
Each word works for its place in the story, never redundant but always evocative. This is not a fast-paced, wham bam thank you mam kind of read. Rather it is a chilling and lingering read that worms its way under your skin leaving you feeling rather unsettled. Perfect!
Rebecca Connelly, a reporter is introduced in the first chapter and we see her journalistic determination to get the story and her internal conflict at the methods she has to use to get it. I liked her already!
It is topical in the portrayal of modern day journalism with cuts and changes to the way stories are sourced, explored and written and so lays out the path for Rebecca’s journey to uncover the truth.
The Stoirm murders have remained a mystery for years ever since Roddy was let off with that “bastard verdict” Not Proven, a controversial piece of Scottish law. When she hears Roddy Drummond is back in Stoirm she is desperate to get to the island to cover the story but there is more going on there than a story, there’s something personal about the island for her. It’s where her father was born but for her, it remains shrouded in mystery as he would never talk about his life there. Rebecca is a strong character and in her the author has created a character who will engage the hearts and minds of readers. Her own life mirrors that of the island, couched in secrets and lies but just how much will she uncover as the story unfolds.
Past and present collide as Rebecca tries to uncover the truth behind Mhairi’s murder 15 years ago while the Laird’s expansion plans for the island also reveal some very dark goings-on. Added to the mix is Rebecca’s own connections to the island and the result is something quite wonderful.
None of the island people come across as particularly open or welcoming, an insular community wrapped up in its almost incestuous past makes for a deliciously dark read. I found myself wanting to get under their skin as each of the key characters narrate their tale from 15 years ago, slowly uncovering the truth.
I could imagine this story being told in the dark around a fire, expectant faces lit up in the flames. The author’s imagery is perfect, he has painted a picture of an island that will engulf your very being. It will shock you and chill you but you will not be able to get it out of your head!
Thunder Bay explores the dark reality of island life, where things are not as idyllic as they might seem on the surface. Douglas Skelton scratches and pokes beneath that surface to bring us a tale of murder, folklore, drugs, secrets and betrayal. Douglas Skelton excels at planting little seeds throughout his writing, drawing the reader in, and ensuring that they pull up a chair and watch them grow. He succeeds in intriguing you and keeping you firmly on your seat until the last page is turned.
Claustrophobic and suffocating combined with the freshness and freedom of an island Thunder Bay kept me on tenterhooks right until the very end. Douglas Skelton has broken the mould with this one, intense, dark and oh so deliciously satisfying!
Thunder Bay is available to purchase from:
About the author:
Douglas Skelton was born in Glasgow. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), journalist and investigator. He has written eleven true crime and Scottish criminal history books but now concentrates on fiction. His novel Open Wounds (2016) was longlisted for the McIlvanney Award. Douglas has investigated real-life crime for Glasgow solicitors and was involved in a long-running campaign to right the famous Ice- Cream Wars miscarriage of justice.