"A Shot of Snuff" by Cary Smith is an endearing, enjoyable and quirky book that draws you into a plot that gathers pace as it proceeds towards the dark climax that explains the title. At the centre of the book is a love story, which becomes steadily more embroiled in jealousy and parochialism, and then greed, corruption and even worse.
Gavin Madden is a young ex-city banker who arrives on the Isle of Stone during the run up to the 2010 election, charged by his civil service employers in Whitehall with exploring whether the island can become the location of a billion-pound plus project intended to provide a world leading centre for the rehabilitation of war veterans who have been disabled by injuries received in Afghanistan, and a training centre for disabled people more widely to prepare them for the Paralympic Games. But there are tensions within Whitehall about how far the project should be allowed to proceed before the outcome of the election is known: and others within the UK Government have their own very different reasons for taking a less than benign interest in what Madden is doing.
But ambivalence, inconsistency and conflict in London only provide one side of the problems facing Madden. The Isle of Stone is a unique place, subject to its own laws and with its own government. It is unclear whether those running the island actually want the huge investment the project might produce, especially if it brings closer scrutiny of a society which feels all too comfortable operating at arm's length from London in a game played largely to its own rules. What does become very clear, however, is that there are those on the island who are very unhappy indeed about Madden forming a relationship with local beauty Camryn.
The Isle of Stone is an invention, presumably to allow the author full reign in developing his plot and characters. The island is located in the area in the Firth of Clyde roughly occupied in the real world by the Isle of Arran, but presumably occupying rather more of it, as the Isle of Stone owes a great deal in terms of its geography and constitutional arrangements to the rather larger Isle of Man. This comes over as something of a mooring of convenience, but it does add an interesting Scottish overlay: and it also means we had a reason to read and thoroughly enjoy this novel, which we wouldn't have had if the author had instead chosen to place the Isle of Stone off Southampton and Portsmouth.