Another Review at MyShelf.Com

The Harper's Quine
Gil Cunningham series, book 1

by Pat McIntosh

      Historical mysteries are amongst my favorite reading, leaving me very familiar with the genre and so very grateful to authors who break out from the usual setups and styles. Pat McIntosh does that beautifully with her series set in late 15th century Glasgow, featuring Gil Cunningham, a recently qualified lawyer. Gil and his usual companions are very appealing to know as people, while the stories have a gloriously rich sense of place based in a combination of geographic and period dialect and loads of well chosen detail about people, places and things. Like her hero, Pat lived in Glasgow for years and graduated from the university there, so she knows it well. Sheís also clearly done her homework to an extra credit level on the historical aspects.

Gil is shocked to find one of the participants in a little public drama he witnessed earlier, at the May Day festival, dead in the kirkyard of St Mungoís. He lives with his uncle, Canon David Cunningham, who is affiliated with the church; and so between that, his profession, and his being the one who discovered the body, Gil gets asked to investigate on behalf of the church. †The woman turns out to be a runaway wife with inherited property of her own, for all she was living as an itinerant musician with the harper she left home for, and his sister. Her husband has long since found consolation elsewhere, and abused her when they lived together, so itís not exactly a matter of broken hearts. But rejection still feels like rejection and sometimes even worse to the bullying type, while the financial issues raise some even more interesting possibilities. Heís not the only suspect, of course, and even if heís guilty, itís not as simple as just pointing a finger.

Meanwhile Gilís own life is undergoing some changes as the investigation brings him into further contact with a girl he met at the May Day festivities. If ever there was an indication that weíre not in Kansas anymore, Toto, itís that Gil is expected to enter the priesthood to provide the living that practicing law on its own cannot. While recognizing the necessity, heís never been wholly enthusiastic about the idea, and suddenly itís looking a lot less appealing. But what choice does he have? The family property was confiscated after the late rebellion.

This series is what historical mysteries are supposed to be about, combining wonderfully compelling storytelling and interesting, appealing characters who are clearly not of our time, with lots of history well blended into the story rather than laid on top like a lesson. The one problem I had when I first started reading it, and which Iíve heard others complain about, is the language. Thereís a lot of dialect and strange words (starting with the title), with no glossary to help (this is an editorial choice, rather than the authorís—weíre both on an historical mystery discussion list where this came up). But Pat is meticulous about making the words understandable in context, and smoothly, within the flow of the story, so they donít interrupt it. While the frustration about this fades with continued acquaintance and thereís no question that the dialect adds greatly to the strong sense of place that really makes these stories stand out.

Highly recommended.

The Book

Soho Constable
October 2008
Trade Paperback
Historical Mystery [Glasgow, Scotland 1492]
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The Reviewer

Kim Malo
Reviewed 2009
© 2009