Thunder Bay - Douglas Skelton

I’m a big fan of Mr. Skelton’s Davie McCall series so when the chance came to read his new stand alone book, I lunged. Think I might have pulled something. Anyhoo….


Rebecca Connolly is a young reporter at a small weekly paper in Inverness. And she just got a tip on a story that may help her personally & professionally. Chaz Wymark is her contact on Stoirm, an island off the west coast of Scotland, and he has some news. A woman named Mary Drummond recently died & rumour has it her son Roddie will be attending the funeral. Hardly earth shattering unless you know the whole story.


Fifteen years ago, Roddie was tried for the brutal murder of his girlfriend Mhairi Sinclair. Although he was not convicted by the courts, many of the locals had no doubt he was guilty & when the trial ended he vanished. Now he’s coming home & Chaz believes his return will stir up hard feelings that have been simmering all these years. Boy, was he right.


Rebecca has another more personal reason for visiting Stoirm. Her father was born there but left when he was young. He never went back & died without ever speaking about his previous life. Maybe now she can find his past.


Grab your favourite beverage, find a comfy spot & settle in. There’s a great story ahead & I have to begin with the setting. It’s perfect. I couldn’t help but think of a volcano… first glance, it’s idyllic & beautiful to look at but you soon feel tremors that give you an inkling it could blow at any time.  A small island community allows the author to weave complicated relationships, culture, isolation & weather into the story with great effect. Through his descriptions, you can see the stunning yet harsh landscape & feel the driving storms in your bones. The insular mindset means you may not love your neighbours but you have to live with them & will stand united against outsiders. As Rebecca soon discovers.


There’s a large cast & they share a massive amount of history. As Rebecca digs into Mhairi’s life, we meet her parents, Roddie’s family, an ex-cop with an agenda, those she grew up with & various locals. One of those is Henry Stuart, the local laird who is butting heads with some of the residents over his big plans to draw tourists to the island. It’s a battle he literally can’t afford to lose due to some of the “businessmen” he’s hooked up with.


Rebecca is the primary narrator but several historical chapters are told by those who were involved in events preceding Mhairi’s death. It’s then we learn the whole messy story & grasp the significance of some of the subplots in the present. These people hold secrets like it’s an Olympic event & as the chapters fly by, the hits just keep on coming.


The story has one weak spot (IMHO) that accounts for my rating. As much as I enjoyed watching the present day drama unfold, I also wanted to know what Rebecca would learn about her father. When the reason he left the island was revealed I had a hard time believing it could impact him that deeply. I don’t want to give anything away so it’s hard to explain but it just didn’t seem personal enough to make him alter the course of his life.


That said, I really enjoyed this. Skelton is a wonderful story teller & the well drawn cast & atmospheric prose pull you right into the thick of it. There are several characters I’d love to bump into again so if this is the start of a new series, sign me up for book #2 please.