Friend & Foe (Hew Cullan Mystery 4) (Hew Cullan 4) (The Hew Cullan Mysteries)

Written by Shirley McKay
Review by Ann Northfield

Set in St Andrews in Scotland in 1583, this is one of the Hew Cullan Mysteries and is very much a novel steeped in its time. The young King James VI is confined to his castle, and religious strife seeps over the land. Different factions of the Kirk vie for supremacy, and dissension is as dangerous as ever.

The vocabulary can be both Scots and archaic, which adds to the flavour. Thankfully there is a helpful glossary at the back to aid the understanding of words such as “Miniard”’ and “Fazart”. Real historical figures such as the English spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, pop up from time to time and add to the strong sense of time and place.

The mysteries and strange happenings whirl around the town: a tree bleeds and a young soldier dies in unusual circumstances. Hints of witchcraft and sorcery abound. The bishop is misbehaving, and someone seems to know too much about it. The reader is frequently in the dark as much as Hew, but perseverance is important, as the information is drip-fed as the reader goes through the book. The novel is meticulously researched, but newcomers to the series should probably start with the first. I struggled at some points, though, having missed the second and third installments. Fans of C. J. Sansom and Shona MacLean will find much to admire in this gripping mystery.