The Blood is Still by Douglas Skelton is a thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery set in and around Inverness. Rebecca Connolly, a journalist with the Highland Chronicle in the city, is intrigued by the discovery of a man's body on the site of the 1746 Battle of Culloden, the savage battle that brought an end to the 1745 Jacobite uprising. She becomes still more interested when she learns that the body is dressed as a highlander from the time of the battle and has been killed with a sword from the era.
But Rebecca also has other concerns. Management changes at the Highland Chronicle mean that her always rather fraught relationship with those she reports to is becoming still more strained. Her belief that journalism means meeting and interviewing those directly involved in events - or directly witnessing those events - is not seen as compatible with a world of diminishing circulations, cost-cutting and journalism carried out expediently over the phone. She's also found herself drawn into a campaign by one of the city's most notorious families, the Burkes, to prevent the council rehousing a convicted paedophile in their neighbourhood. Meanwhile, in the background, she's increasingly aware of an ultra-right-wing political movement active in Inverness. Spioraid nan Gàidheal - Spirit of the Gael - or Spioraid for short, is stoking up ill feeling and feeding prejudice and unrest: "They were so far right they made Attila the Hun look like Mother Theresa." They in turn have links with a still more extreme but very shadowy group called Black Dawn which has been linked to death threats and fake anthrax deliveries to politicians.
The story that develops is largely told through Rebecca's eyes, though we also spend time with the senior investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Val Roach, and with others. Why has the murder victim been left in such a symbolic place, dressed so symbolically? Is there a historical or political significance to his death, or is the explanation more mundane, arising from a local gang war? And what is the link with a film being made in the Highlands about the 1745 Jacobite uprising, a film whose approach to the story has enraged Spioraid?
Then a second body turns up, this time dressed in a government redcoat uniform from the time of the Battle of Culloden. The book builds compellingly towards a climax that succeeds in being both surprising and satisfying, as Rebecca finds she has to face down her fears and make choices that will determine her future. This rather nicely sets the scene for future novels in this series, which certainly has the potential to go further. The Blood is Still is Tartan Noir at its most tartan, and noir: and a book we'd highly recommend.