When Bloody Scotland announced their McIlvanney longlist I was WHOOPING with joy to see that Douglas Skelton’s Thunder Bay was included! This book is so damn good I read it twice and do you know what, it was even better the second time around!
I was therefore delighted to be hosting my review of the book as part of this year’s Bloody Scotland Blog Tour.
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:
Douglas Skelton has published 12 non fiction books and eight crime thrillers. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, shelf stacker, meat porter, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), reporter, investigator and editor.
His first thriller BLOOD CITY was published in 2013.
The gritty thriller was the first in a quartet set on the tough streets of Glasgow from 1980 onwards. It was followed by CROW BAIT, DEVIL’S KNOCK and finally OPEN WOUNDS, which was longlisted for the first McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year in 2016.
His two Dominic Queste thrillers, THE DEAD DON’T BOOGIE and TAG – YOU’RE DEAD lightened the tone but didn’t skimp on thrills.
He followed this with his New York-set chase thriller THE JANUS RUN in 2018.
THUNDER BAY, a dark and atmospheric tale of secrets, lies and murder on a Scottish island, was published to great acclaim by Polygon in 2019.
It has been longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for 2019.
Douglas is often recruited by documentary makers to contribute to true crime shows on TV and radio and is a regular on the crime writing festival circuit.
He also takes part in comedy shows with other crime writers. To date he has written three Carry on Sleuthing plays in which he also appears along with Caro Ramsay, Michael J. Malone, Theresa Talbot, Pat Young and Lucy Cameron, with occasional guests Alex Gray, Lin Anderson and Neil Broadfoot.
He is also one quarter of Four Blokes in search of a Plot, along with Gordon Brown, Mark Leggatt and Neil Broadfoot. This is a fun show in which they invited the audience to give them a murder weapon and a protagonist. They then take it in turns to create a crime story (usually developing into something wild and wacky) while also answering audience queries about the craft.
His one man event, You the Jury, invites audiences to deliver verdicts on real life but heavily disguised cases from around the world.
Check out all the other blog spots on the tour: