The Vanished Days (The Scottish series, 3)

Written by Susanna Kearsley
Review by Mark Spencer

Prizewinning Canadian author of more than a dozen books, bestseller Kearsley sets her latest novel in early modern Scotland. Here, she presents a trademark “twin-stranded” story, interweaving present and past. The present: 1707, in the wake of the Acts of Union dissolving the Scots Parliament. The plot revolves around “Lily” Aitcheson’s dubious claim that she was wife to the late James Graeme—he died in the failed Darien expedition, Scotland’s ill-fated attempt to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Panama. If so, she’s entitled to collect his portion of funds being doled out by Queen Anne’s Equivalent commission. The young man assigned to investigate her claim, sergeant Adam Williamson, has a difficult task. Finding an answer takes him, and us, into Lily’s and Scotland’s past. Individual lives bestride historical trends in religion and politics, we find. Other characters include Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll; the Erskine brothers, Lord Grange and the Earl of Mar; the Lairds of Inchbrakie and other Graemes (their family tree is reproduced), like Colonel Patrick Graeme. Kearsley fans will recognize him from The Winter Sea, a companion novel.

The Vanished Days offers a finely balanced mix where historical research overlaps fictional imagination. “A Word about Accuracy” and a note “About the Characters” help readers differentiate fact from fiction. Kearsley’s characters are well-developed, although their 18th-century diction is, occasionally, uneven. Sprinkled with literary allusions, her book has intricate plot twists, mostly believable historical contexts, and wonderfully deft descriptions, such as this one of 18th-century Edinburgh’s “labyrinth of wynds and closes twisting off the broader streets and narrowing to falls of steps that disappeared in shadows, overhung by painted tenements with galleries and watching windows crowding close together overhead.” An entertainingly satisfying read.