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THE BLUE HACKLE


By Lillian Stewart Carl

Five Star, November 2010 ($25.95)
ISBN-10: 1594149224
ISBN-13: 978-1-59414-922-1

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Jean Fairbain and Alasdair Cameron are spending Hogmany, the time between Christmas and New Year's Day, on the beautiful Isle of Skye. This is a working vacation: Jean is gathering material for a story in the magazine she is part owner of, and Alasdair, a retired police detective, will be installing a security system in the stately home owned by Ferguson MacDonald, "Fergie" to his friends. In exchange, they get the best suite in the house and the opportunity to hold their wedding just after New Year's Day in the chapel on the estate.

Fergie is an old friend of Alasdair's, and their fathers served together in WWII. The blue hackle of the title is the feather badge worn on the men's uniform cap to indicate their regiment. Fergie is trying to keep the family castle, Dunasheen, afloat by taking in paying guests and selling off some prized family possessions. This is a trial run for his plan, but alas, as the poet said, "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, gang aft agley."

The path of true love for Jean and Alardair has been rocky, to say the least. They met during a murder investigation when Alasdair was still a homicide detective, and they took an instant dislike to each other. That didn't last too long, although they had to get through a few more murders before they realized they were in love, and for Alasdair, practical, rational, not given to flights of fancy, to admit that he has the same ability to see ghosts that Jean does. She refers to their talent as an "allergy."

Things don't get off to a good start. They've barely settled in when one of the guests is murdered. Even though Alasdair is retired from the police force, he can't help getting involved, and the local police constable is happy to have his help. Jean does her share of investigating as well. While it's not quite a locked room or isolated manor house situation, it's apparent that the murderer is someone who is familiar with the castle and its inhabitants.

The other guests include an obnoxious American couple who mistake Jean for a servant, their young daughter Dakota, who, Jean suspects, is also allergic to ghosts, and Australian businessman/antiquarian Greg MacLeod and his colorful wife Tina, who wishes her husband had never gotten the crazy idea of going back to his ancestral homeland, and Scott Krum, an American antique dealer looking for some bargains. Added to the mix is the daughter of the house, Diana, and Colin Urquhart, an Iraqi war veteran suffering from PTSD.

Fergie has been selling off some of the family treasures to keep the place running, but there is one thing he won't sell: a portrait of his ancestress, Seonaid MacDonald, the Green Lady, who made the mistake of falling in love with another man. She was murdered in 1822, and her supposed lover/killer exiled. Jean and Alasdair are aware of her presence, but she is a gentle soul who means no harm. With her assistance, the truth of her death is solved as well.

The author is a master at painting a vivid portrait of the beautiful and often unforgiving Scottish landscape, and delivering history lessons as a natural part of the story. I especially appreciate the depiction of Jean and Alasdair's middle-aged romance, so much different than the over-heated, wildly passionate scenes common in books with younger protagonists, but with a certain amount of discrete lust and longing. This is another winner by the very talented Ms. Carl.

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