After a career in TV production Helen Bettinson recently ditched a long commute around the M25 in order to concentrate on reading, and perhaps even writing, crime fiction.
As the setting for William and Kate’s student romance the university town of St Andrews has acquired a vicarious 21st century glamour, but Shirley McKay paints it as a harsh place, subject to the baser passions of human nature, in this third Hew Cullan mystery.
Set in the early part of King James’ reign, Time and Tide concerns the intertwined fates of Town and Gown when a windmill is salvaged from a Dutch wreck. Ownership of this wondrous new machine is up for grabs as the sole man found aboard dies shortly after being brought ashore.
University lawyer, Hew Cullan, is called in by the local sheriff to settle the windmill’s legal possession, a matter made more pressing by the rash of unexplained deaths in the town. Cullan’s search for the truth takes him from the familiarity of Scotland’s East Coast to a convent in the war-torn Low Countries.
To say that Time and Tide is well written fails to do justice to McKay’s skill in capturing the voices of 16th century Fife. Difficult, at first, to tune in to, the rhythms of her characters’ speech and dialect work a slow magic on the reader. As with the best historical fiction the author’s learning is lightly worn and it is the people, and their responses to violence and greed within their own community, that make for a page-turning read.
If St Andrews becomes as well known for enigmatic Hew Cullan as for its modern-day royal lovers it will be well served. I await the next instalment in the series with impatience.