Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

Best ‘New to Us” Books in 2014: Farida B’s Picks

December 24, 2014

I love a variety of books in adult and children’s collection. I love reading Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Humor, Romance and gentle clean reads. Here are “New to Me” books that inspired me most this year. I hope you can include some of these books in your 2015 reading list.

Death of a Travelling ManDeath of a Travelling Man by M. C. Beaton
This is Beaton‘s eighth mystery featuring Scottish police constable Hamish MacBeth. Hamish has been promoted against his will and as Sergeant, he makes more money, but must suffer more work as well, as well as the enthusiasm of his new helper, Police Constable Willie Lamont. Willie Lamont has less talent for police work and more talent for cleaning, polishing, and scrubbing. His insistence on keeping the police station spotless and super clean is driving MacBeth crazy. It all starts when a suspicious drifter Sean and his girlfriend Cheryl park their van behind the minister’s manse. This “devastatingly handsome” drifter Sean charms four women out of their money and harasses Hamish’s ladylove, Priscilla. If you like to read light mysteries filled with humor and action then this is definitely going to be your choice!  See my full review.

Murphy's LawMurphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen
Murphy’s Law is the first book in the Molly Murphy mystery series. Molly Murphy, the main character in this story, is a spunky, 19th-century Irish heroine. Molly always ends up in trouble no matter where she goes. She is outspoken, strong independent lady. She commits a murder in self-defense, so she has to leave her cherished Ireland and her identity for the unknown shores of America. In London she meets Kathleen O’Connor. Kathleen has two small children and tickets for a ship to America, where she plans to join her husband. But she has tuberculosis, so she knows that she will not be allowed on the ship to America, so she persuades the desperate Molly to take her children to America instead of herself and use her identity on the ship. Molly agrees to this plan since she wants to be in a new place and start a new life. After the landing at Ellis Island, O’Malley is found stabbed to death. Police detective Daniel Sullivan questions Molly about it since lots of people had seen Molly slap O’Malley on the ship. Molly becomes the prime suspect along with a young man whom she had befriended. See my full review.

Running Out of TimeRunning out of Time by Margaret P. Haddix
Jessie lives in the frontier village of Clifton, Indiana in 1840. When diphtheria strikes the village and the children of Clifton start dying, Jessie discovers that Clifton is actually a 1996 tourist site under secret observation by heartless scientists. Jessie’s mother sends her on a dangerous mission to bring back help. But outside the walls of Clifton, Jessie discovers a world even more alien and scary, and soon she finds her own life in danger. Can she get help before the children of Clifton and Jessie herself run out of time? This is a young adult book which is appealing to adults as well. It is one of my favorite books, written by a good author.  It has won multiple awards, including the YALSA Best Book for Young Adults.

Miss Julia Speaks Her MindMiss Julia Speaks her Mind by Ann Ross
This book is the first in the series. Miss Julia is a strong willed, independent, proper church-going lady. Recently widowed, she is trying to settle down with her new life, including the substantial estate left by her late husband, Wesley Lloyd Springer. Everything is peaceful until Hazel Marie Puckett arrives at her doorstep with her 9 year old son Little Lloyd. Guess what? Little Lloyd is Wesley’s son. Miss Julia receives a shock of her life! After 44 years of marriage to pillar of the church and community Wesley Lloyd Springer, she discovers that he was having an affair with Hazel Marie Puckett. She had assumed he was working late at the family bank, but instead he was engaged in more carnal pursuits. The worst thing was that the whole town knew about this affair. Read my full review.

UnwindUnwind By Neal Shusterman
In America after the Second Civil War the “Bill of Life” permits the parents to get rid of a child between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, through a process called “unwinding.” Unwinding ensures that the child’s life doesn’t really end by transplanting all the organs from the child’s body to different important recipients who quote the highest bid. This is a story about three teens – Connor, Risa and Lev – who become runaway Unwinds. Their escape and survival stories interweave as they struggle to avoid harvest camps. All the characters live and breathe in the story. Neal Shusterman’s Unwind has won many awards and honors, including being included on ALA’s Top Ten Picks for Reluctant Readers and Best Books for Young Adults lists. It is a book written for young adults, but I really enjoyed it and I am sure lots of adults will like reading it too! It has breathtaking suspense and is a sure page turner to find out if the three teens avoid their untimely ends.

Death of a Travelling Man by M. C. Beaton

February 18, 2014

M.C. Beaton is the author of bestselling Hamish Macbeth mystery series which has won international acclaim. She is also the author of the Agatha Raisin series. She also writes romance and mystery stories under the name Marion Chesney.

This is Beaton’s eighth mystery featuring Scottish police constable Hamish MacBeth. It is charming, humorous, and clever as the first seven. Hamish has been promoted against his will. As Sergeant, he makes more money, but must suffer more work as well, and the enthusiasm of his new helper, Police Constable Willie Lamont.   Willie Lamont has less talent for police work and more talent for cleaning, polishing, and scrubbing. His insistence on keeping the police station spotless and super clean is driving MacBeth crazy. But Hamish has other troubles too.  His lady friend Priscilla, is being standoffish too.

It all starts  when a suspicious drifter Sean and his girlfriend Cheryl park their van behind the minister’s manse. This “”devastatingly handsome”” drifter Sean charms four women out of their money and harasses Hamish’s ladylove, Priscilla. Reports of stolen drugs, money missing from church funds, and Cheryl’s sudden departure are preliminaries to the discovery of Sean’s battered corpse.  Hamish seeks out the young man’s girlfriend and unhappily discovers a blackmailing scheme that incriminates some locals.  Hamish finds plenty of motives as he tries to protect the reputations of several village matrons until he traps the killer. To find out more read this interesting book.

As usual, Beaton makes Lochdubh and its inhabitants come alive in this story. The characters are wonderfully original, the plot is cleverly crafted and intriguing to the end. There’s lots of humor and even the darker, bleaker parts of the story adds to its appeal. If you like to read light mystery filled with some humor and action then this is definitely going to be your choice!

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Macbeth by William Shakespeare

February 11, 2014

In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the drama is presented with stark economy. The intensity of the play – the turmoil, the treachery, the succession battles, and the general blood bath – embraces the audience like a feverish nightmare that is nearly impossible to wake up from. And when it is all over the play lingers – as it has done, no doubt, since its first performance in 1606.

Shakespeare’s tale was inspired by a regicide and other events in 11th-century Scotland. What actually took place and what is legend is difficult to know for certain;  at least in detail. However, the general tendencies of the era are less vague. Emerging ideas of national unity and kingship were competing with civil disorder caused by battles for power among local warlords, and struggles over succession often resulted in ruthless wars.

In the play, Macbeth is initially a loyal general to king Duncan. But after being flattered by three witches and their auguring, and his own wife, Macbeth becomes convinced that murdering the king and taking over the throne is the right thing to do. Blinded by ambition and narcissism, Macbeth gets involved in one murderous act after another, seemingly unable to put a stop to the slayings, and the paranoia and suspicions of political power take over life in the court. It becomes clear that there is only one way out for Macbeth, and that way can be found at the end of a sword.

Typically for Shakespeare (and his time), the audience is offered a reassuring conclusion in which a just political authority triumphs. The kings who attended the world premiere, King James I of England and King Christian of Denmark, would have been well pleased with the finale. But the play does ask some unnerving questions about the price of power, and they remain valid to this day.

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Emil’s Picks

December 30, 2013

Here are some older books that made an impression on me in 2013. And I am, partly, what I read.

On Heaven and Earth by Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka
When On Heaven and Earth was published in 2010, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a cardinal in Buenos Aires. In 2013, he became pope to 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, and On Heaven and Earth offered a marvelous opportunity to get to know the new Bishop of Rome. The book is a series of conversations between Bergoglio and his friend, Buenos Aires rabbi Abraham Skorka. In the book, the two Argentinians share their wisdom, and their dialogue often reveals applied faith. “Our true power,” Bergoglio says, “must be service. We cannot adore God if our spirit does not include the needy.” And his friend the rabbi agrees.

Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Evgeny Bunimovich and James Kates
Some time ago, researchers asked about three hundred Moscow teenagers to name twenty famous people who had influenced the formation of their identity. Over thirty percent of the students named Aleksandr Pushkin, the most celebrated of Russian poets, as their first choice. But while the poetry of the Russian Golden Age continues to attract readers, it has been harder for contemporary Russian poets to reach an audience. Which is a pity, because for the first time in Russian history, Russian poetry is now free from censorship and stylistic restrictions, and these poets have a lot to tell those who will take the time to listen. Here is post-Soviet irony and the mesmerizing voices of poets like Marianna Geide, Anna Russ, and Maria Stepanova – young women just beginning to make themselves heard. And this anthology also reveals the revival of faith the country is going through, as in these words of Olesya Nikolaeva: “A fledgling winter flickers through me/ and the holidays of my Lord – Christmas, home,/ transformed into a manger. From there the word comes:/ you have everything that you yourself are/ you have that which you are!”

Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Isserley motors about Scotland, looking for men. However, it can’t just be anyone – ideally, they need to be single and muscular to fit Isserley’s purposes. Her worldview in clearly unusual and Isserley – with an enormous chest, short legs, and thick glasses – is not what she seems. Neither are her co-workers at Ablach Farm. The men Isserley gives a ride are soon in the midst of horrors that outdo their worst nightmares – horrors that are not far removed from what is going on in the world today.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
In 1812, the Brothers Grimm published the first edition of their compilation of folk and fairy tales. In 2012, Penguin Classics asked Philip Pullman to curate 50 of Grimm’s classic tales, and he “leapt at the chance.” But how do you get at something that has already been done so perfectly? Pullman stays true to the spirit of the tales and finds strength in their immense storytelling power. Thus, he helps introduce this treasure to a contemporary audience that may be more familiar with Pullman than with these tales and their deep, deep Germanic roots.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
After spending four years in “the bad place,” a neural health facility in Baltimore, Patrick Peoples is back at home with his parents, living in their basement, and trying to get his life back on track. Pat believes that he has spent but a few months in the psychiatric ward, and his world view is dominated by magical and delusional thinking. He feels that he and his wife, Nikki, have been forced into “apart time” because he was a mean husband who got fat and made the wrong decisions. He has returned to New Jersey to make things right, become fit, and be “kind instead of right.” However, the people who surround him seem convinced that Nikki is gone for good, and instead some of them try to get him to spend time with Tiffany – a very strange girl, indeed. She’s obviously crazy; but then again, who isn’t?

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Farida B’s Picks

December 19, 2013

I love a variety of books in the adult and children’s collection, including Fantasy, Mystery, Humor, Romance, and gentle clean reads. My picks for the 5 best new to us books in 2013 – presented in no particular order, certainly reflect my reading tastes.

The Innocent by David Baldacci
The Innocent is David Baldacci’s first novel in Will Robie Series. This is a fast paced, plot driven suspense story. Will Robie is a stone cold ruthless hit man. He always kills his given targets without asking any questions.  The story starts with Robie traveling to Scotland to kill his assigned target. On each job he has to plan and memorize each step he will have to make to do his job and stay alive. If he makes one mistake, he will lose his life.  When he gets his target, he heads back home.  Next Robie is assigned to eliminate a target close to home, which is unusual – normally he has to travel far away to do his job. When he enters the home of the target at night, he finds that it’s a woman, who is sleeping with a small child.  Unable to shoot the woman with the child so near, he defies orders and leaves without completing his mission.  He has just made the biggest mistake of his life. Now, he is the target and has to escape from his own people.

Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 
Mythical and mystical, Mistress of Spices is reminiscent of fables, magic, realistic and fairy tales. The story Divakaruni tells is transporting, but it is her gift for metaphor that makes this novel live and breathe, you feel like you are involved with the characters, its pages as redolent as any freshly ground spice. It revolves around the age-old magic of spices, which are imbued with powers as complexly spiritual as India itself, the birthplace of Divakaruni and her fearless heroine, Tilo. Born ugly and unwanted in a tiny village in India, Nayan Tara (“Flower That Grows by the Dust Road”) is virtually discarded by her family for the sin of being a girl. Resentful at being treated so shabbily, young Nayan Tara throws herself on the mercy of the mythical serpents of the oceans, who deliver her to the mystical Island of Spices. There, she is initiated into a priestly sisterhood of Spice Mistresses sent out into the world to help others, offering magic potions of fennel, peppercorn, lotus root, etc.  Read my full review.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
Fannie Flagg takes readers to Elmwood Springs, Missouri, where the most unlikely and surprising experiences of a high-spirited lady Mrs. Elner Shimfissle inspire a town to ponder the age-old question “Why are we here?” If you have read any of her books, they are full of southern warmth, emotion and funny episodes. She is the author of the famous book turned into movie Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Elner is up on a ladder again picking figs when she accidentally pokes a wasps’ nest in her fig tree and falls down.  Waking up in the hospital emergency room, she wonders how she got there. Elner’s nervous niece Norma faints when she hears of Aunt Elner being in hospital. This is not the first time that Aunt Elner has fallen from the ladder. Now Aunt Elner is worried about facing Norma since she had promised not to climb the ladder again.  But what can she do? All she wanted was to make a jar of fig preserves for the nice woman who had brought her a basket of tomatoes.

The Man You’ll Marry by Debbie Macomber
Debbie Macomber writes Contemporary romance which is heartwarming and engaging. If you like to read some clean cozy romance than this is the author you should pick. This title contains two different stories of the Wedding dress. The first part is called “The First Man you Meet.” The second part is called “The Man You’ll Marry.” The wedding dress was made many years ago, and it came with a promise: “The First Man You Meet will be the Man you will Marry!” Shelly Hansen did not want to get married to anyone. She was happy to stay single and work on her career.  She was horrified when her great-aunt’s wedding dress arrived, according to family legend, she was destined to marry the next man she met. On the same day when she tripped on an escalator and fell into Mark Brady’s arms, she told him and herself that she wasn’t interested in marriage. But then she started seeing him everywhere. She met him at a lawyer’s office, at the beach. It was almost like she was following him. Read my full review.

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
The Surgeon is a top-grade thriller from Gerritsen, a former internist who gave up the stethoscope to raise kids and chills. ER trauma surgeon Catherine Cordell first met the killer, called “The Surgeon” by Boston newspapers, down in Savannah, where she was his last victim. Luckily for Catherine, after being raped she got a hand free from the cord binding her to the bed, cut herself loose with a scalpel, reached under her bed, grabbed a pistol, and seemingly killed Andrew Capra, the inept medical student about to pluck out her womb. Unable to bear Savannah, where everyone seemed to know she’d been raped, Catherine transferred to Boston, holed up for nearly two years, then took a job as a trauma surgeon without disclosing her past.  Good grief! More wombless bodies start showing up in Boston. Did she really kill Andrew? This is the first book in Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles series. Read my full review.

Best New Books of 2013: Kate H’s Picks

December 6, 2013

Recently, I have enjoyed reading a lot of modern classics and historical fiction. I love to find new reads by browsing award winner lists, especially when I’m trying to find a good non-fiction or science fiction book.
My picks for 2013 are all novels which share themes of change, growth, and renewal, which is fitting during this wonderful transformative time of year!

Harvest by Jim Crace
Set in an ambiguous time period of British history, Harvest documents the decline of a rural town in the countryside struggling against the encroaching presence of industrialism. The close knit, close-to-being-inbred members of this community are forced to accept and eventually become displaced by the changes coming to pass around them. Their reaction to newcomers demonstrates a deep distrust of intrusion into their insular existence. Through his narrator, Walter Thirsk, Crace remains tender toward the members of this community, whilst also hinting at the dangers of a closed (literally and figuratively), society. A novel of many layers, Harvest is Jim Crace at his best.

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
Probably my favorite book of 2013, The Death of Bees is O’Donnell’s stunning debut in fiction. Set in Glasgow, Scotland, the story follows the lives of sisters Marnie and Nelly who, after discovering their parent’s dead bodies, decide not to report the deaths and instead, bury the bodies in the back yard. The characters of Marnie, Nelly, and their elderly neighbor Lennie who becomes their friend and guardian, are portrayed vividly; and their relationships feel real and touching. Wildly entertaining but also emotional and affecting, I highly recommend this novel which I raced through in a day.

Snapper by Brian Kimberling
Snapper is set in rural Indiana and follows the twists and turns of Nathan Lochmueller’s life. Reading as a series of short stories, or vignettes almost, each chapter portrays an event in Lochmueller’s life which has a lasting impact on future events. They eventually tie together as a bildungsroman of sorts, as Lochmueller comes to accept the past and embrace the present. A very relatable story, Snapper also taught me a lot about bird watching and Indiana, while remaining breezy and funny throughout.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
A novel about growing up, death, and faith, Ordinary Grace documents one summer in a Minnesota town in 1961. Hit with the death of his older teenage sister, thirteen year old Frank is thrust into an adult world of secrets, lies, and betrayal. Ordinary Grace is mysterious and ominous; never fully revealing itself to the reader and refusing to answer so many questions. The characters each portray the various meanings of what it is to have faith, and leaves us questioning its presence and power in our own lives.

The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock
Combining mysticism with pure realism, Peter Rock explores an unusual part of America’s religious history. The Shelter Cycle tells the story of two children, Francine and Colville, who grew up in the Church Universal and Triumphant, a religion that predicted the world could end in the late 1980s. This book is haunting in its rendering of individuals raised in a cult and how they grow up in their own ways thereafter. A blend of fact and fiction, The Shelter Cycle provokes us into thinking about the nature of religion and family, spirituality and upbringing: how does one inform the other? How can we know what is credible and what isn’t? An unpredictable and beautifully written book.

Under the Skin by Michel Faber

October 29, 2013

Isserley cruises the roads of the Scottish Highlands, looking for men. The hitchhikers she initially picks up all view her differently, but her physique stands out: “Half Baywatch babe, half little old lady.” But her appearance is nowhere near her natural build. Isserley’s body has been fundamentally altered, partly in order to get men into her car.

And she does not view the men as humans. Isserley and her kind are the humans; these other creatures are known to her as vodsels, and they are to be captured, fattened, and then shipped off.

Isserley is good at was she does, and the unit she works for is quite productive; her employer Vess Incorporated is well pleased. But one day the son of the mighty and exceptionally rich Mr. Vess visits the plant, and this young man, Amlis Vess, has some queer ideas. He believes that vodsel life should be respected and he is awed by the notion that these beings have a language. Isserley, on the other hand, cannot identify with the vodsels as they aren’t capable of anything that defines humans. Her co-workers and men in general get on her nerves, and when she hears what the poor bastards who work in the dreaded Estates back home like to eat, she simply says, “Trash will eat trash.”

Yes, Isserley is a snob, living in self-imposed isolation. And even though she briefly worked in the Estates, she prefers to identify with the Elite that in fact turned her into a serf. She socialized with the well-to-do before “[w]ealthy young men” who had promised to take care of her did not do so.

So, Isserley doesn’t care for young and rich Amlis Vess either, and when she shows him the facility where vodsels are kept, she is not impressed by his idealism. “There’s nothing unusual going on here,” she says, “Just… supply and demand.”

Under the Skin was Dutch-born author Michel Faber’s first novel. It has inspired a movie (which premiered in September, 2013) and the book is an impressive and strange piece of fiction (although not hard to read). It is an immensely rich tale, and while it’s a bloody and gory allegory, it is also a story that jolts the readers awake and helps them find a new love for the air, the rain, the snow, the trees, the sea – earth.

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Doors Open by Ian Rankin

March 7, 2013

Willie Sutton, when asked why he robs banks, answered “because that’s where the money is.”  Our national museums can’t exhibit all the art they possess, so often some great art is stored in warehouses.  Maybe it would be interesting if some of that art was stolen, especially if it is not to be shown or appreciated!

Three friends decide to pull off a dangerous caper.  Mike Mackenzie, software titan, Allan Cruickshank, banker and Robert Gissing, an art professor come up with a bold plan… under the influence of a few  drinks.  Art shouldn’t be hidden away in private collections and businesses but should be available to the public in museums all the time. And since a lot of art is stored in warehouses maybe there are some extra pieces for each of them. This is the premise of Ian Rankin’s 2010 book Doors Open.

Gissing knows a student, Westie, at his college that may be an up and coming artist but is very adept at copying famous works.  And the conspiracy grows deeper. Mike realizes if Westie can copy several selected pieces they might be able to pull off a switch, replacing fakes for the real paintings.  The gang also decides that they need outside muscle to provide a van and assistants to spirit away the haul. Mike knows just the person to help them (for a percentage of the take) – Chib Calloway.  Chib is a local hoodlum who went to school and Mike suspects he would be interested in their scheme.

And now you are invited along for a slightly different type of Rankin adventure.  Add to the mix a local detective named Ransome, who just may get wind of the trio’s plans.  Rankin’s books are always well written and a wonderful read.

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The Blackhouse by Peter May

January 18, 2013

If you like mysteries set in remote locations in the United Kingdom, brooding weather, a tortured detective, a hostile boss, family secrets and some gritty forensic scenes, then, like me, you’ll love this book.

The setting is the Isle of Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides and the weather is obligingly nasty. Fin Macleod was born and raised on the island, but left as soon as he could and has returned only once in eighteen years, for a family funeral. But now he’s been assigned to work a murder case in Lewis that may be connected to an unsolved case in Edinburgh, where he is a police detective. Unhappy with his assignment, Fin has to deal with the resentment of the detective in charge of the case and the strong feelings his return stirs up among the islanders and within himself.

As Fin investigates he is reminded of incidents from his childhood, many of them painful. Peter May makes an interesting choice in structuring the novel. Fin’s childhood memories are told in the first person; the sections of the book dealing with the murder investigation are told in the third. The reason for this unusual (to me, anyway) shift becomes clear at the climax of the story, which I don’t want to spoil by going into too much detail. Suffice to say it involves a charged confrontation in a physically dangerous setting where motives become apparent and the landscape reflects the turmoil of all the emotions laid bare.

I liked the character of Fin Macleod and was largely happy with the plotting (it felt a little rushed at the end, but that may have been because I was turning the pages so fast). I especially recommend this book for its fine use of setting and atmosphere. The island of Lewis is described beautifully and I saw the people, the streets, the blackhouses and the land. The scenes depicting an ancient Lewis custom involving twelve men braving the sea to hunt birds on a remote island are particularly gripping.

The Blackhouse did not have an easy road to publication. It was rejected by British publishers before a French publisher read it, loved it, translated it, and released it to acclaim in France. Only then was it published in England. You can hear the full story from the author on youtube.

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The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin

May 14, 2012

Ian Rankin, one of the leading writers of police procedurals returns to one of his newest characters, Inspector Malcolm Fox in this 2012 novel. Fox and his two assistants, Sgt. Tony Kaye and Constable Joe Naysmith have been sent from Edinburgh to investigate police corruption in the town of Kirkcaldy, county Fife. Fox belongs to what we in the ‘colonies’ call Internal Affairs and in Scotland is known as ‘Complaints,’ a division of all police departments that is despised by other ‘coppers.’ Their only responsibility is the investigation of police corruption.

Fox and his crew are there to widen the investigation of Paul Carter, who has already been confirmed as a policeman willing to exchange sexual favors from women in order to overlook minor offenses. However, there may be several other policemen involved with Carter, if for nothing else but for overlooking his misdeeds. Carter was originally turned in by his uncle, Alan Carter, an ex-cop. As Fox and his team widen their investigation, Alan Carter turns up dead … an apparent suicide … or is it a murder made to look like a suicide. To complicate matters it appears that Alan Carter was looking at a case he was involved in back in 1985.

Fox and Kaye and Naysmith have to decide how wide an investigation is called for and if there is any possible connection between the present case and the one in 1985. Besides possibly widening the investigation, they realize they will be stepping on a lot more official toes! And, what they are looking at is a possible connection between the 1985 case and their present original investigation. There is good reason why Ian Rankin is now considered among the best writers of this genre.

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