This smart mystery series set in Scotland in 1881 introduces Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton as he investigates a string of murders committed by a killer that newspapers dub the “Holyrood Strangler.” Haunted by his parents’ deaths in a mysterious fire and his troubled relationship with his alcoholic brother, Donald, 27-year old Ian is moody by temperament and a loner by choice. At heart he is a poet, a writer with a keen eye for the truth, and so he fuels his energy into pursuing evildoers. Although the first murder is ruled a suicide, Ian harbors doubts. His suspicions are confirmed as it becomes clear the young fellow—found with a single playing card decorated with dancing skeletons tucked in his pocket—actually was strangled to death. When a second body is found with a similar card left nearby, Ian knows he has a serial killer on his hands with this, his first “proper case.”
The author paints a deliciously sensuous portrait of late 19th-century Edinburgh in this darkly atmospheric story peopled with vivid, quirky characters, from Ian’s spirited Aunt Lillian (a loving light in his life) to the story’s unfortunate victims and the ruthless killer who is always lurking just out of sight. One of the book’s many pleasures is accompanying the perpetrator as his murders unfold, all leading to the final dramatic scene between the “Holyrood Strangler” and Ian, who is the ultimate prey. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this entertaining, beautifully written series. Highly recommended.