Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Sound of Shiant by Hereward Proops

Review by Bill Kirton

In his author’s notes, Proops writes of his love for and fascination with the Hebrides, and it’s the setting as well as the excellent story, which grows from and belongs to it, that provides lots of reading pleasure. The prologue takes a real shipwreck and adds drama and a shivery dimension to it by introducing, without naming them, the mythical Blue Men of the Minch, who live beneath the waves around the Western Isles of Scotland. He then incorporates these creatures into his tale of CID Inspector Edmund Forrester’s search for the truth behind the mysterious drowning of a crew member who was lost from one of the fishing boats belonging to the notorious Murdo MacLeod.

It’s set in 1882 and Forrester, an Englishman, knows little of the people and places of the islands before he arrives. But he soon learns the special attributes that characterise the men and women who make their livings from the often bleak lands and terrible seas around them. His voyages in small boats out onto heaving waters and his encounters with the fists and threats of MacLeod’s henchmen soon teach him that he’s in a hard, hostile environment whose beauties and mysteries make it a magical place, but a place of mortal danger.

The pervasive moods and truths of the Hebrides shape the characters, good and bad and, because of their mystical otherness, force the reader to suspend disbelief and accept the reality of the Blue Men in the waters of the Sound of Shiant. But they’re not just there for local colour; they’re part of the plot and central to its resolution. With them, as well as with his characters, Proops evokes the timeless, elemental mysteries and magic of these islands and waters.

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