Much of the Highland Gazette's recent success has been due to the hard work and common sense of Mrs. Smart, so when she's found dead on a dark Inverness street, everyone on the newspaper staff is left reeling in shock. But that's not the end of it. As more information comes to light, it is learned that the dead woman's name wasn't Smart, she was married to the newspaper's editor, Don McLeod, and McLeod is soon hauled off to jail, accused of her murder. The Highland Gazette office is in chaos. A handsome stranger is brought in temporarily to help with advertising and accounts, and in the midst of all this, reporter Joanne Ross finds herself falling in love with him.
Once again A.D. Scott has worked her magic and drawn me into the world of Inverness, Scotland, in the late 1950s. Attitudes may be changing quickly elsewhere, but in this small Highland town, change doesn't come easily... or fast. The cast of characters fit this setting beautifully. McAllister, a newspaper man from Glasgow, wants to modernize the paper and make it a success. Reporter Joanne Ross has put an end to her abusive marriage. Hector Bain, staff photographer and "serial nuisance" may be a pain, but he's magic with a camera. Young Rob McLean is a gifted reporter who wouldn't mind making a name for himself in front of the camera. Of all the main characters there are only two readers have never learned much about: Don McLeod, the deputy editor, and Mrs. Smart, the office manager. This book centers on them-- the "old guard"-- and as it does, what appear to be inconsistencies begin to show in the story.
Scott reminds us that Inverness is a small town where everyone spends most of their time gossiping and learning everyone else's business. However, no one knew about the marriage between McLeod and Smart. Joanne Ross, whose personal life has already set fire to the local grapevine, falls in love with a stranger, has an affair with him, and her soon-to-be ex-husband doesn't find out? I have to admit that that does strain credulity. You see, I was born and raised in a very small town. (My grandparents lived two doors down from one nosy parker, and I lived across the street from another.) There are people who spend most of their time sticking their noses into everyone else's business. In fact, these people are so talented that Joanne Ross's every move would be observed and reported. There would have been no unseen sneaking in and out of houses. However, I also know that it is possible to live in a small town and have secrets that no one else knows about. That's why the hidden lives of McLeod and Smart don't bother me as much. Most of their history took place well away from Inverness... but those evening meetings when Mrs. Smart would slip through McLeod's back gate? People knew.
With that said, these inconsistencies did not ruin the book for me at all. I love Scott's evocative writing style. She sets a scene so well that I can easily picture it in my mind. The main characters are so real to me that I swear I've had them all over for tea (or in McAllister's case, a wee dram o' Talisker's) many times. I've joined with them in sorrow and in joy, and in unraveling the intricate mysteries they must solve. Each mystery in this series involves uncovering layers of secrets people thought were safely buried, and I enjoy trying to get to the answers first.
It's a brave writer who kills one of her main characters, and I admire Scott for doing it. Now that she's effectively shaken up the "old guard," I wonder how much faster those at the Highland Gazette will work to bring Inverness to the modern world?
Beneath the Abbey Wall by A.D. Scott
Atria Books © 2012
Paperback, 352 pages
Historical Mystery, #3 Highland Gazette mystery
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.