A Step So Grave

out now!

The Reek of Red Herrings (Book 9)
 

Agatha and Lefty winner for best historical novel.

On the rain-drenched, wave-lashed, wind-battered Banffshire coast, tiny fishing villages perch on ledges which would make a seagull think twice and crumbly mansions cling to crumblier cliff tops while, out in the bay, the herring drifters brave the storms to catch their silver darlings. It's nowhere for a child of gentle Northamptonshire to spend Christmas.

 But when odd things start to turn up in barrels of fish - with a strong whiff of murder most foul - that's exactly where Dandy Gilver finds herself. Enlisted to investigate, she and her trusty cohort, Alec Osborne, are soon swept up in the fisherfolk's wedding season as well as the mystery. Between age-old traditions and brand-new horrors, Dandy must think the unthinakble to solve her grisliest case yet.

Reading Group Discussion Questions (SPOILERS!)

  1. All of the wedding traditions in the book are authentic bits of Doric culture – some still carried out today. (Look up “Bride Blackening” on YouTube.) Would you be tempted by any of them if you were planning a wedding? What other wedding traditions have you encountered in fiction or by travelling?
  2. Do you think Mr Birchfield did the right thing when he made his initial discovery?
  3. There’s quite a bit of Doric dialect in this book. Do you find it off-putting or does it add to the atmosphere. Do you research dialect terms that are new to you or do you tend to pass over them?
  4. Euphemia Clatchie was a real person; her name was irresistible. Do you have names in your family tree or in your wider experience that are begging to be put in a book?
  5. There’s an unwritten rule in mystery fiction at the cozy end that no animals ever die. But this series started in 1922 with a seven-year-old dog. The choice was between letting Bunty slip away quietly between books and having her steal a scene, save a day and go out in a blaze of glory. What do you think of the decision eventually made?
  6. On that topic, did you enjoy the Searles’ Realm of Bounteous Wonder in the early chapters? Would you visit it if it actually existed?
  7. Are Dandy and Alec good hotel guests or does their acceptance of their privilege grate on you?
  8. Scriptwriting guru Robert McKee has said about historical stories: "When choosing a period, the controlling idea of the story should be applicable to contemporary life." Is this true of the secret at the heart of Th Reek of Red Herrings?
  9. Fisherfolk like the Gamrie herring men are traditionally every bit as superstitious as they are portrayed here. What other occupations tend towards close observance of good luck rituals? What good luck charms, if any, do you practise and why? (Hint: they might not seem like good luck charms because they’re so familiar. E.g. Do you wince when someone says “I hope it doesn’t rain for the picnic” or “It’s going to be good weather for the picnic”.)

 

Buy it

"McPherson spins a complicated plot, vividly portrays a hard way of life that is probably gone now, and creates some memorable characters to populate a memorable story." TRISS STEIN

"an exciting climax and the moral dilemmas confronting Dandy and Alec deliver rewards for readers" PW

"Warning: you may need to don a sweater to get through this unusual novel." MYSTERY SCENE