Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Lady in the Loch: Review

Soooo, once upon a time I put The Lady in the Loch by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough on my long TBR list.  I'm thinking I probably did that because it was billed as a historical/literary mystery. 'Cause, you know it's set in the late 18th century and stars Walter Scott before he became a "Sir" and before he had written/published most of his best known work.  And I do love me a good historical mystery.  I'm sure the basic synopsis grabbed my attention too.

Because Walter Scott has just recently been appointed as a sheriff of Edinburgh.  He expects the job to be a pretty simple one--giving him a nice steady income and time to work on his writing.  But shortly after taking office he is called to the banks of the half-frozen loch where workers who have been draining off the water have found the bones of some poor soul who was disposed there.   Before he has time to really investigate this find, a young gypsy woman named Midge Margaret comes to him with a story of missing women from the gypsy camp.  One young girl disappeared while gathering wood for the fire and another was snatched from her very bed during the night. 

Midge Margaret gets more attention from Scott than most townsfolk are willing to give the "tinklers" as the gypsies are called--in part because their paths had crossed years earlier in one of Scott's first encounters with sheriff duties (more as a bystander than a law-enforcer).  At first it is thought that body snatchers or "nobbins" as the gypsies call them are responsible for the disappearances.  Because after all, nobody will miss a few gypsies here and there and the university can always use extra bodies to learn medicine and anatomy from.  Scott promises to look into the matter, but before he can make many inquiries Midge Margaret and her brother are attacked in town and her pregnant sister-in-law is taken as well.  Now the race is on...for the attacker is working to a schedule and for a design of his own and Scott and Midge Margaret will have to be quick if they are going to prevent Jeannie (the sister-in-law) from becoming another body in the loch.

All that sounds like the basis for a pretty good mystery story, don't you think?  But nobody told me in the various synopses that I read that we'd be dealing with ghosts and dead people sitting up and talking.  Nobody told me that a sheriff would have the mystical power to call upon a murdered girl and ask her who her murderer is--and that she'd answer.  Nobody told me that we had the belief (and reality) that if murdered people are touched by their attacker then their wounds will bleed afresh and proclaim the guilt of the killer.  Nobody told me that we'd be dealing with spirit possession of living people.  And nobody, after getting me to suspend my disbelief long enough to swallow a historical mystery that contains such things, can tell me why a murdered man later in the book doesn't jump up and proclaim the murderer when he's examined by him/her.  Oh....but that would end the book about two chapters too soon and we can't have that, so that whole murdered people can identify their murderers thing only works when it's convenient for the plot. 

So, that's my major quibble with this book.  After getting me to travel back in time and making me believe in the Walter Scott (and the gypsies and the other characters...) of the time period and making me believe that all this mystical stuff is true, Scarborough does not use the paranormal trappings consistently.   Or at least doesn't give a very good reason why it only works part of the time.  If it works, then it works. Period.  Not just when the author needs it to.

The characters are great. I don't know Sir Walter Scott's work and I don't know much about him, so I can't say whether Scarborough's Scott is true to life.  But I like her portrayal of him.  And I like Midge Margaret a lot.  She's a very intelligent and brave young woman--and the reader is rooting for her and her companions.  The plot itself is an interesting one.  All pluses.  I'm not sure if Scarborough meant the identity of the killer to be a big secret and the reveal to be a surprise--but it wasn't.  It didn't take me long to figure out who was behind the disappearances and deaths.  Overall, a fairly decent story--not quite what I expected and not as consistent within its own world as I would like.  Two and a half stars--mostly for character development.


J F Norris said...

A 17th century Pushing Daisies episode without the pie shop. There are a lot of fantastical/oogy boogy genre blenders out there, but this one is a very weird idea.

Bev Hankins said...

It is, indeed, John. And, as I said, I'd go with the weirdness...if we were consistent with it. But we're not.