The Counterfeit Madam: A Gil Cunningham Murder Mystery

Written by Pat McIntosh
Review by Liz Allenby

Pat McIntosh presents a tightly-wrapped tale of murder in 15th-century Glasgow. When shrewish Dame Isabella is found dead with a nail pounded in her ear, Gil Cunningham his wife, Alys, investigate, plunging into a community of prostitution and counterfeit coin. Against a background of Scottish customs and family rivalry for wealth and property, Gil and Alys encounter physical danger as they pursue the murderer.

The author has interwoven a tale of murder with lively characters, such as the prostitute Madam Xanthe, who takes Gil in and nurses him after he receives a nasty blow on the head. Even the victim, Dame Isabella, is a presence in the novel with her mean-spirited commentary and tendency to invective. The shady John Sempill and his regal wife, Lady Magdalen, provide distraction mixed with suspicion as Gil interviews them to ferret out how the trail of counterfeit silver connects to the suspects and the corpse. Alys overcomes fear of the devil and witches as she investigates a silver mine at the edge of Glasgow.

McIntosh has set her novel within the confines of a small Scottish community, using Gaelic and Scottish dialect throughout the dialogue. Unless familiar with Scots, the reader must be prepared for a challenging read. In addition to the convoluted storyline with its many red herrings, the dialect requires much rereading for clarity. McIntosh deserves applause, however, for her description of setting, locale, and use of period detail. The novel provides its share of surprises and suspects within the environs of old Glasgow.