Think "Scottish crime novel" and you also tend to think of violent death meted out, usually in significant quantities, on the dark and gritty streets of Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen. So the very different world of "The King's Park Irregulars" by David Wilson takes a little getting used to at first. Once you do get used to it, however, what you find is a gentle, charming and highly engaging novel which draws you into the lives of its characters as they set out to solve the crime they are confronted with. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Abigail Craig is a senior librarian at Stirling Library and a fairly recent widow, whose friends Alasdair and Sophie are trying to draw her back into a more active social life. When Alasdair's prize possession, a pair of slippers worth £8,000 that once belonged to Sir Walter Scott, is stolen, the police appear to take little interest, and Abigail and Alasdair set out to try to solve the crime themselves. Alasdair rapidly forms suspicions about a rival collector and descendent of Sir Walter Scott living in the city: but to the police, and to the reader, this seems little more than a man obviously prone to leaping to conclusions simply leaping to one more. That's certainly the view of Sophie, Alasdair's wife, who has asked Alasdair's prime suspect to be guest of honour at a major event she is organising the following weekend.
For Abigail Craig the question is how to get to the bottom of the mystery without exacerbating the obvious tensions growing between Alasdair and Sophie, though as the story develops it becomes more and more difficult to see how she is going to square this circle.
When you read what is clearly going to be the start of a new series of novels the temptation is to try to fit it into a familiar framework. This reviewer spent much of the novel mentally measuring Abigail Craig against Agatha Christie's "Miss Marple". But while Miss Marple's world may not have been dark or gritty, three of the twelve novels in which she appeared had the word "murder" in the title and one more had the word "body". And most, if not all, of the rest involved the early demise of at least one of the characters. No, the far more gentle world of Abigail Craig is one in which you never really believe bad things are going to happen to good people. If there is a comparison to be made, it is less with Agatha Christie than with Enid Blyton. What we have here is "The Famous Five" for grown ups: and from someone who still has the whole series on his bookshelf there can be few higher compliments. I very much look forward to the next "Abigail Craig Mystery" and another dose of escapism from the much less gentle world around us.