A Rattle of Bones by Douglas Skelton

Today I’m delighted to share my thoughts on the third book in the Rebecca Connolly series by Douglas Skelton, A Rattle of Bones. I’ve really enjoyed reading this series, and was really looking forward to this latest instalment. Here’s what the book is all about:

Source: Owned Copy
Release Date: 05 August 2021
Publisher: Polygon

About the Book

In 1752, Seamus a’Ghlynne, James of the Glen, was executed for the murder of government man Colin Campbell. He was almost certainly innocent.

When banners are placed at his gravesite claiming that his namesake, James Stewart, is innocent of murder, reporter Rebecca Connolly smells a story. The young Stewart has been in prison for ten years for the brutal murder of his lover, lawyer and politician Murdo Maxwell, in his Appin home. Rebecca soon discovers that Maxwell believed he was being followed prior to his murder and his phones were tapped.

Why is a Glasgow crime boss so interested in the case? As Rebecca keeps digging, she finds herself in the sights of Inverness crime matriarch Mo Burke, who wants payback for the damage caused to her family in a previous case.

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, A Rattle of Bones is a tale of injustice and mystery, and the echo of the past in the present.

My Thoughts

I’ve really enjoyed the Rebecca Connolly series. Each book has been a wonderful blend of mystery and tension, with a carefully interwoven thread of history. With A Rattle of Bones, the current case that Rebecca finds herself embroiled in, a possible miscarriage of justice, has echoes of a real part of Scottish history, the execution of James Stewart for a crime he did not commit way back in 1752. In establishing the story, in bringing that James Stewart’s story to life on the page, Douglas Skelton also creates a chilling undercurrent, a kind of motif, that flows throughout the story keeping the echoes of the past very much in the reader’s mind as we join Rebecca on the very much present. day case. Once again a James Stewart has been convicted of murder and, once again, it appears there is far more to the story than meets the eye and James the younger may just have been a convenient scapegoat.

I like the character of Rebecca Connolly. Now working as a freelance journalist, she has far more freedom to investigate and operate a little outside of the constraints of the police. She’s intrepid but also very human and haunted by her past. There is so much about her character that is relatable and the author does a superb job of capturing her fears, her anxiety, but also her determination. There are many reasons for her fear in this particular instalment. A constant sense of threat which is coming at her from all sides. Her job is certainly not one to earn her many friends and the investigation she is working on is no different. Although there is a kind of twist in this particular tale that sees her in an uneasy alliance with both the police and some very unsavoury characters.

Every one of the characters in this story is beautifully fleshed out, from Rebecca’s friends and colleagues, particularly, Chaz and Elspeth who both bring great humour to the story, to the more criminal elements of Finbar Dalgleish, Mo Burke and Malky. Malky is a character who I really enjoyed getting to know. Although very much on the wrong side of the law, he has a code that he sticks to. There was just something about him, a kind of strangely likeable vibe considering he is clearly capable of great violence. Douglas Skelton has a way of making his characters feel real, in bringing the pain of James Stewart’s mother to life, and imbuing a kind of stoicism which is very easy to understand. All emotions flow from the page and hit their mark.

The pacing of the story ebbs and flow perfectly. There are moments of great tension, where the pacing really picks up and I found myself on tenterhooks. The threat against Rebecca builds to a very surprising conclusion but one which fits the story and her character perfectly. With regards to the underlying mystery, who murdered Murdo Maxwell, and the innocence or guilt of James Stewart, there are so many clues, so many potential suspects that the truth is well hidden right to the end. The further Rebecca digs, the more twisted the mystery. becomes. The main investigation is wrapped around entries from a journal, the author of which is unknown but the context of which is very important. It helps move the story along and with it our understanding of what has happened and why. Setting is perfect, the story unfolding against the backdrop of Inverness and the Highlands, adding atmosphere and, more importantly, the weight of history to the tale.

This is another brilliant addition to the series, and with hints that there is more to come, more conflict and more tension, particularly between Rebecca, Mo and ultimately Dalgleish, I cannot wait. A blend of fact and fiction, the book taps into all that I love about Scottish crime fiction. If you’ve not read any of. the books yet, you really do need to give them a try. A firm favourite of Jen Med’s team. Definitely recommendly.

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 Thunder Bay (2019) 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.

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