"Thunder Bay" by Douglas Skelton is a fast-paced and enthralling thriller that pulls you along at a cracking pace. Rebecca Connolly is a reporter on an Inverness-based local newspaper and a contact on the Hebridean island of Stoirm tips her off about a compelling story. Fifteen years earlier an islander, Roddie Drummond, had been tried for the brutal murder of his lover, Mhairi Sinclair. The jury had returned the peculiarly Scottish verdict of "not proven". But everyone on Stoirm had drawn their own conclusions. In most of their eyes Roddie had got away with murder, literally, and he had then left the island and disappeared. But now Roddie's mother has died, and the word is that Roddie is returning to Stoirm for her funeral.
Rebecca has her own reasons for wanting to go to Stoirm. It was where her father had been born and brought up. He had left the island as soon as he reached adulthood, long before Mhairi's murder, and never returned. He had always refused to talk about his childhood, or the island, and never answered questions about why he had left. With his untimely death from illness, Rebecca had thought that his secrets had died with him. But now she has the chance to do some digging on her own account, while also pursuing the story of Roddie and Mhairi. Rebecca's problem is that in the fast-changing world of local newspapers, the idea of her leaving the office for several days to pursue a single story doesn't appeal to her editor. In his eyes she should be able to find out everything she needs to know about Roddie Drummond over the phone
But Rebecca feigns illness and travels to Stoirm anyway. What she finds is an island that has been brought face-to-face with events that all those involved have spent fifteen years trying to forget. Tensions rise as old enmities resurface, and new ones take root. What really did happen on that night when Mhairi Sinclair was savagely killed? Why were her last words "Thunder Bay", a place on the island's exposed west side? Did Roddie Drummond really get away with murder? And as far as her own personal quest is concerned, why do some of the older islanders react so oddly when Rebecca mentions her father's name? As the book builds towards its shattering climax, violence returns to Stoirm; and you know that the scars left by what happened fifteen years earlier will seem slight compared to those left by events now taking place.
"Thunder Bay" is a thoroughly enjoyable read that we'd highly recommend. It may be a personal thing, but we tend to find fictional Scottish settings a little distracting. We find our focus on the story itself is slightly diverted by mental efforts to "place" the setting. "Stoirm" seems to have elements of Jura, Mull and Skye, and we found we never quite stopped playing the game of trying to identify real-world inspirations for parts of the island. Having said that, we understand why the nature of the story, and in particular its climax, did rather rule out setting it on a real island.