Review published on July 7, 2017.
This story starts with a particularly gruesome murder that took place in 1945, towards the end of World War II on the loch shore of Kinloch, with a dozen warships providing a backdrop to the scene. It then switches to the present day when, on the tiny island of Gairsay, off the coast of Kintyre, Malcom McAuley, the postman calls at the farm of the Bremner family, only to find that there is no one there. It has clearly been an unplanned departure because there is freshly cooked food on the table, the stove is still alight and a pan of milk has recently boiled over. The family has lived on the island since the 1940s, accepted in the area as a Jewish family who had escaped the horrors of the Nazi regime. Apart from being the postman, McAuley is also the island’s grocer, fireman and special constable and it is in his latter role that he informs the police station on the mainland and D.S. Brian Scott is despatched to the island.
As a result of a preliminary investigation by the detective sergeant and McAuley, a secret stash of documents, linked to wartime secrets, is subsequently discovered in the basement of the farmhouse. This is clearly an incident which requires a professional investigation so Scott’s good friend D.C.I. Jim Daley and their new boss, Chief Superintendent Carrie Symington, become involved. Within a very short time Secret Service agents, Special Branch and people with friends in high places start to influence, and attempt to control, the investigation. Then, when D.C.I. Jimmy Daley is given the diary of Inspector William Urquhart, his wartime predecessor in Kinloch, it becomes clear that the investigation is about to becomes even more complex, and that the present day mystery is unlikely to be resolved until the wartime murder has been solved, and this becomes Daley’s mission. It very soon becomes obvious that people on the island hold many secrets and that it is not going to be easy to uncover them.
I found this an entertaining story which contained enough twists and turns in the plotting to keep my interest engaged – and the final twist certainly took me by surprise! I thought that the intertwining of the historic and the modern-day story was very well handled and I was fascinated to learn so much about the important strategic part that this western coast of Scotland played during the war. In fact it was this mixture of fact and fiction which formed a major part of my enjoyment of the story. It soon became apparent that the author, previously a police officer in the Strathclyde force, has the experience to ensure that police procedural aspects throughout the story felt authentic. At one time he was also a freelance journalist and did a considerable amount of research into this period, which he then used to very good effect throughout the book.
I thought that the main male characters were well-drawn; I enjoyed the relationship between Daley and Scott and found their long-standing friendship entirely credible. I also enjoyed the portrayal of McAuley, with much humour derived from the seriousness with which he took his various roles and this requirement to “wear many hats”! However, I felt considerably less convinced by some of the female characters, all of whom felt rather two-dimensional – although maybe in a future story in the series Carrie Symington’s character will be developed because she is clearly a complex and highly ambitious woman.
For me, a real strength in the story-telling lay in the evocations of island life and the portrayal of the intensity of living in such a small, intimate community. I thought the author captured very convincingly the intensity of relationships and interactions, how feuds can simmer for generations, and how uncovered secrets can have dramatic repercussions on the whole community. His descriptions of the countryside, and the at times savage power of the weather, were excellent and added an extra depth to the story.
This is the fifth story in the D.C.I. Daley series and, although I was able to read it as a stand-alone story, I did find myself getting a bit irritated by the very frequent references to the characters’ backstories. Some history was required to “flesh-out” the characters for a first-time reader but I thought that the author rather overdid it – and I suspect that, had I been following the series I might well have felt just as irritated by these repetitive references! I also thought that there was just a bit too much use of “dialect” speech throughout the narrative – I found myself thinking “Yes, I’ve got the message now”! It was these irritations which led me to give it three rather than four stars as a personal read.
There are many themes in this novel which would make this a good choice for reading groups, especially as it explores problems that are as relevant today as they were in the past, especially the resurgence of right-wing movements and the plight of refugees, with the divisive impact this can have on communities.
Linda Hepworth 3/5
Well of the Winds by Denzil Meyrick
Polygon 9781846973727 pbk Apr 2017
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