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THE MURDER HOLE:


A Jean Fairbairn/Alasdair Cameron Mystery

By Lillian Stewart Carl

Five Star Press, August, 2006 ($25.95)
ISBN: 1-59414-480-x

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

Expatriate Jean Fairbairn is settling nicely into her new life in Scotland, where she writes travel and history articles for the magazine Great Scot. She has just about recovered from her last assignment the previous month (The Secret Portrait), and is wondering when, or if, she'll be seeing detective Alasdair Cameron, whom she met during a murder investigation, again. They had some interesting times during that investigation, and learned that they had a talent in common: both can see dead people. Their personal relationship has been in limbo since they parted at the end of the case.

On the night before leaving for her next assignment, Jean learns that one of the people she's set to interview at Loch Ness, the American scientist/entrepreneur Roger Dempsey, has been getting anonymous threats warning him off his project to settle once and for all the question of whether the Loch Ness Monster is real. Dempsey is laughing off the threats, but the authorities are not, and have assigned members of the Northern Constabulary to investigate and provide security for the expedition. It so happens that Cameron is assigned to that district.

She is staying at Pitclachie Farm, a bed and breakfast near the shores of the loch owned by Iris Macintosh, an ardent environmentalist who opposes everything Dempsey stands for. Iris is the daughter of an American heiress who disappeared under suspicious circumstances in the 1930's. Her father, Ambrose Macintosh, was tried and acquitted of her mother's death, but there are those who still believe he got away with murder. It didn't help his reputation that he had a close relationship with Aleister Crowley, a self-proclaimed magician and devil worshipper who lived nearby in the early 20th century. Ambrose was an amateur archaeologist who amassed an impressive collection of ancient artifacts found on his property. One of his most intriguing finds was the Pitclachie Stone, engraved with Pictish symbols some two thousand years ago. Roger Dempsey claims that a symbol resembling a horse's head is actually a depiction of Nessie. Jean had met Dempsey years ago at an academic conference she'd attended with her then-husband. She was not impressed with the man's scientific credentials then, and is not impressed with them now, but he greets her like a long-lost friend.

The ruins of Urquhart Castle loom over the loch, where it has stood as a sentinel for hundreds of years. The invaders these days are tourists looking for a bit of sanitized Historical Scotland. Iris, unimpressed, refers to it as Hysterical Scotland, but Jean enjoys it just the same. With a little mist and the plaintive sound of the bagpipes, she can imagine herself back in the time of the Bonnie Prince. Those were violent times, and as Jean soon discovers, violence has returned to the loch. She and Alasdair make tentative steps toward a more personal relationship as they work together to solve one murder and try to prevent more.

Carl creates vivid images of the Scottish scenery and her characters ring true. There is an element of woo-woo involved in figuring out the mystery, but it seems appropriate to the setting. This is a thoroughly enjoyable addition to the series.

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