The Bookseller of Inverness

Written by S.G. MacLean
Review by Penny Ingham

This is S. G. MacLean’s first stand-alone novel since her popular Damian Seeker series. In 1745, Jacobite Iain MacGillivray is left for dead on Drummossie Moor after the battle of Culloden. Six years later, he lives a respectable life as a bookseller—until he finds a stranger murdered in his shop. A sword with a white cockade on its hilt (the emblem of the Jacobites) lies beside the body, and Iain is inexorably drawn into solving the crime.

On one level, this novel is a cracking adventure story. There are plots, spies, long-hidden secrets and shocking betrayals; and castles with underground tunnels and exciting escapes across night-clad moors. On a deeper level, the author portrays a haunting sense of an occupied country still reeling from the slaughter at Culloden, and from the brutal reprisals that followed. Many Highlanders were hunted down and subjected to a traitor’s death, or transported. Those left behind endured Hanoverian land seizures, and strict laws forbidding them to carry weapons, play the pipes or wear the tartan.

There is scarcely a character in this novel who is not suffering from a profound sense of loss. Take Iain MacGillivray, who is scarred both physically and mentally. One side of his face is ravaged by grapeshot. He also suffers from survivor’s guilt, and from what we would now understand to be PTSD. Ishbel MacLeod, the confectioner, is similarly traumatised. Her story touches on the sensitive fact that some Highland chiefs kidnapped their own people to sell into indentured servitude, and subsequently profited from the North American and Caribbean slave trade. A gripping and thought-provoking novel. Highly recommended.