Today it is my great pleasure to share my thoughts on Thunder Bay by Douglas Skelton which is published today. Happy publication day Mr Skelton and thank you to publisher Polygon who provided an advance copy for review. Here is what the book is all about:
The Bookish Bits
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.
Shocking confession given the number of times I have ventured north of the border to various crime festivals and the number of times I have listened to Douglas Skelton on various panel events, but I have never read one of his books before. I know, I know. But when I was offered the opportunity to read a copy of this book courtesy of the lovely folks at Polygon I jumped at it. It sounded like exactly my kind of book. And I was right. It totally was.
Now I can’t compare this to any of the author’s other works but what I can say is that from the very first page of this book I was struck by the narrative style, the intense imagery that the words conjured up as I read onward. It is a strong and somewhat stark opening, placing the reader right at the heart of Thunder Bay, in a situation so dark, so wild, that it takes your breath away. And as I drew closer to the end of the prologue – as the full extent of what I was reading became finally clear – I was one hundred percent hooked by a book which I knew was going to get right under my skin.
Put very simply, this book is the story of a journalist, Rebecca, who gets a strong whiff of a story when the death of a woman on the island of Stoirm draws her son home for her funeral. A son who has been absent for fifteen years having been accused,but not convicted, of the murder of his partner, Mhairi. Now Rebecca has her own reasons for wanting to look into the story, only part of which is the cold case murder of Mhairi. Her own father had ties to the island, ones that he would never speak of, and it is her own family history she is as keen to learn about as that of Roddie Drummond and the ill-fated Mhairi.
The characters in this book are perfectly drawn. You can feel the sadness in Rebecca, whose own story is slowly explored throughout the book. We know she is running from something but not yet what and as the explanation becomes clear, her own sense of separation becomes understandable and relatable. We have Roddie Drummond, a man haunted by the past, but just how guilty is he? He is a complex character that we don’t get to know all that well to begin with, but is there enough of sense a darkness about him to suggest that he may well have been a killer after all? Then there are Donnie Kerr and Henry Stuart, once friends of Roddie and Mhairi, both of whom are nursing their own secrets and portrayed in such away that it leaves you on edge and unsure about them and their motives. Donnie is perhaps the more sympathetic and passionate of the two men, but you are still left wondering what drives him – passion or guilt. In fact there are few redeeming characters on Stoirm, every person that Rebecca meets somehow tainted by the dark history of the island. The only possible exceptions are Chaz, Rebecca’s colleague and freelance photographer, and Alan, both of whom add a touch of lightness to an otherwise murky cast of characters.
Douglas Skelton uses beautifully descriptive narrative throughout the novel, creating an atmosphere that feels oppressive, dark and menacing. Everything about the island of Stoirm, from the suspicious nature of the residents towards outsiders, particularly Rebecca, to isolation of the eponymous Thunder Bay, is set up to put the reader on edge. You know that the island holds many secrets but you do not know what, and won’t do for some time as they are all held very close to the chests of the major players in this story and slowly revealed as the story builds to a somewhat dramatic and shocking close.
There are some very dark themes discussed within the book, including domestic abuse, but all are done in as sympathetic a way as possible, avoiding the gratuitous whilst retaining that sense of authenticity. The author has captured an image of small island life which may be heightened somewhat, but the whole feeling of the insular and protective nature of the residents rang true, and the sense of retribution and revenge for wrong doing being handled the ‘island way’ felt perfectly fitting. When we arrive on the island with Rebecca, you know that the whole community is on the precipice, that there are going to be dramatic changes, and not just by way of a planned development which will change the whole tourist culture of Stoirm. But you also know that Rebecca will not leave the island without finding out the truth, no matter the cost.
Dark, brooding, atmospheric and full of mystery, this is a book I would highly recommend you read. I loved it.
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.
Author Links: Twitter | Website