Inspector Faro is a renowned Victorian detective whose exploits in Edinburgh and beyond have found their way into the hearts of an ever expanding circle of fans since his first outing was published in 1988. "The Seal King Murders" by Alanna Knight, although the sixteenth book in the series, is the second she has written which takes you back in time to Inspector Faro's early career.
The setting is 1861, and Constable Faro returns to his family home of Orkney, partly as a holiday, and partly to take a second look at the apparently accidental death of the relative of a senior colleague. Would a swimming champion and exciseman simply have drowned by accident while boarding a steamer, or was there more to his death? And was there any link between his death and the rumours of Spanish gold recovered from a sunken Armada ship?
Meanwhile, Faro's mother, employed as housekeeper in the laird's house, sees his return to Orkney as a chance to find him a suitable wife. Things take a sinister turn when a disappearance seems to support age old island beliefs about the mythical Seal King taking a human bride at Lammastide: an incident which reflect another mysterious disappearance years earlier. Faro finds himself trying to get to the bottom of an ever expanding series of mysteries despite the suspicions of the local police; the unpredictably of his first love, who he meets again by chance; and what seems to be increasing levels of obstruction by those most directly affected by the death he is primarily here to investigate.
It is fascinating to find a detective novel set against the unusual backdrop of Orkney in 1861, though if you know the islands, the slight rearrangements of the geography for dramatic effect can take a little getting used to. What emerges is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery whose pace is perfectly judged to keep you turning the page. En route to the book's violent conclusion you learn more about Faro's early life and his background, and some of the influences that made him the man so well known to readers of the other books in the series.