"A Rattle of Bones" is the third in Douglas Skelton's series of novels featuring Inverness-based journalist Rebecca Connolly. What you find between the covers is an intriguing thriller that takes as its starting point a notable - real - miscarriage of justice that took place in November 1752 when James Stewart, also known as James Stewart of the Glen, was hanged for his alleged indirect involvement in the Appin Murder in May that year.
Fast forward to the conviction, ten years before the setting of the novel, of another, unrelated, James Stewart for the brutal murder in Appin of his lover, lawyer and politician Murdo Maxwell. He is still in prison when banners are placed at the graveside of the man executed in 1752 claiming the modern James Stewart is innocent of the murder of Maxwell. Rebecca Connolly smells a story and, though she quickly becomes aware that new information has come to light about the murder, has difficulty gaining the trust of those close to the man in prison and discovering what it is and how important it is. Meanwhile, the sense that there are those who actively want to harm her because of grievances arising from earlier encounters provides an underlying tension that is carried throughout the book to very good effect.
The story is told largely from Rebecca Connolly's point of view. We also find ourselves seeing events unfold from the perspective of a brutally effective Glasgow gangster, sent to Inverness by his boss to find out what has emerged about the murder for reasons that haven't been revealed; while others, including Detective Chief Inspector Valerie Roach and Inverness crime matriarch Mo Burke, also have their say. It soon becomes clear to the reader - and a little later to Rebecca - that a surprisingly wide range of people are taking a surprisingly close interest in a murder that appeared at the time to have been as open-and-shut as it was possible for it to be. The police at the time apparently did their jobs fairly effectively, but what they found could only have led to one conclusion. What new information could possibly be compelling enough to overturn such a straightforward conviction?
Douglas Skelton plays his hand beautifully in presenting his story to his readers. The characters are well defined and thoroughly convincing and the settings, both real and imaginary, are nicely drawn. The are times when you begin to think the author has revealed too much to keep the suspense going to the end only - afterwards - to realise you've been the victim of skillfully crafted misdirection that results in some very nice twists as the story reaches its climax. This is Tartan Noir at its best: and a book we'd highly recommend.