Today I am delighted to share my thoughts on The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill by C.S. Robertson (aka Craig Robertson). It’s a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for a while, and I was lucky enough to pick up a proof at Bloody Scotland last year. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
Death is not the end. For Grace McGill, it’s only the beginning.
When people die alone and undiscovered, it’s her job to clean up what’s left behind – whether it’s clutter, bodily remains or dark secrets.
When an old man lies undetected in his flat for months, it seems an unremarkable life and an unnoticed death. But Grace knows that everyone has a story and that all deaths mean something more.
A STAND-OUT NOVEL WITH A UNIQUE NARRATIVE VOICE AND AN UNGUESSABLE MYSTERY, YOU ARE GUARANTEED TO REMEMBER GRACE McGILL.
I have to be honest – I definitely do not envy Grace McGill her choice of career. Cleaning is far from my favoured pass time on a good day, but going to the homes of the not-so-recently deceased and making good what remains is most certainly not on my list of things to do if ever seeking unemployment. But Grace McGill is a very different personality to me, perhaps more empathetic, certainly more strong stomached, actively seeking out the cases of those who have lain undiscovered for many months after their death, taking the time to find out about the deceased and taking each of their stories to heart. She is a fascinating character indeed, multi-layered and so well imagined that going on this journey of discovery with her, following her all the way to Bute as she tries to learn more about the past of one of her ‘clients’, seems the most natural thing in the world. Sort of.
There is so much I could say about this book but I don’t want to journey into spoiler territory. The lion’s share of the book centres around Grace’s infatuation with a photograph that she discovers during a clean up, her bid to discover it’s origins, it’s meaning and to identify the other people in the picture. Although this may seem a very strange obsession – most of us can likely imagine a passing interest in a person’s story but perhaps not the level of scrutiny Grace engages in – but the more I learned of Grace, the more natural and understandable her actions became. And as the story progresses, the tension and the mystery really start to develop, Grace uncovering loose threads that threaten to see her whole existence unravel when pulled upon.
The author is adept at creating memorable characters who really draw you into a story and grace is no exception. She has a very complicated past, and a troubled relationship with her own father which goes some way to explaining her actions. There is a great deal of empathy with her, but also a whole host of contradictions and her ways of coping with the atrocities she must see are fascinating and yet authentic. I was really drawn to her, keen to see her uncover the truth, even if she was somewhat less confident or outgoing than the typical amateur detective, for that is surely what she is.
There is a mystery at the heart of this whole story, with a fated summer on Bute playing a key part in the progression of the story. I loved the nod to the wonderful town of Rothesay, and the island as a whole, to the residents and businesses that make it a truly special place to visit. With one quite important exception, CS Robertson has captured the heart and spirit of the place, and I could picture each of the landmarks as he described them, bringing a smile to my face, and a pang of regret too that the pandemic has prevented any trips to the island the last couple of years. Knowing how welcoming a place it is, the sense of threat that the author manages to underline the narrative with gave it an extra edginess that just made the tension greater and my need to get to the truth grow.
This is a perfectly paced read, a blend of suspense and threat, moments of pulse pounding tension and atmosphere, and an underlying of melancholy and inevitability that held my attention to the very last page. There were scenes in the book that caught me unawares, but parts which seemed sadly anticipated. And that ending, understated and yet emotionally powerful at the same time. Definitely recommended.
About the Author
A former journalist, Craig Robertson had a 20-year career with a Scottish Sunday newspaper before becoming a full-time author. He interviewed three Prime Ministers, reported on major stories including 9/11, Dunblane, the Omagh bombing and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. He was pilloried on breakfast television, beat Oprah Winfrey to a major scoop, spent time on Death Row in the USA and dispensed polio drops in the backstreets of India.
His first novel, Random, was shortlisted for the 2010 CWA New Blood Dagger, longlisted for the 2011 Crime Novel of the Year and was a Sunday Times bestseller. He has been both longlisted and shortlisted for writing prizes.
He now shares his time between Scotland and California and can usually be found on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic.