"Silma Hill" by Iain Maloney is an engagingly disturbing, other-worldly tale of life and death in a remote Scottish village. Abdale is so far off the beaten track that "passing travellers, vagabonds and highway men were rarer than unicorns" and the services of the constable has long since been dispensed with. Even the one remaining representative of the law, the nightwatchman, no longer bothers to patrol. The village is dominated by Silma Hill, which is topped off with an ancient stone circle, and life carries on much as it always has, and as most of those who live in the area think it always will.
But then Old Sangster uncovers a pagan idol in the peat beneath Silma Hill, and takes it to the village's widely hated minister, Reverend Burnett, a man more interested in antiquarian objects than the parishioners whose souls he is employed to safeguard. Sangster's death soon follows, and events rapidly begin to spiral out of control as hysteria mounts and accusations of witchcraft begin to tarnish one villager after another. Even Reverend Burnett's sixteen year-old daughter Fiona is not immune from events as she seeks to balance her fear of her distant and unloving father with her affection for a local farmer's son and the attentions of a second suitor.
What emerges is a story that builds compellingly towards a climax that is shockingly if slightly distantly violent, and which leaves the reader asking questions about the nature of society and the role of religion and belief. One of the things that contributes to the slightly dream-like character of the story is the lack of clear pointers about geography and time. We are told we are in Scotland, but there is not much that is intrinsically Scottish about Abdale or its residents. This is a story which you feel could have been told with equal validity about a historical Midsomer (of "Midsomer Murders" fame), with which it shares a sense of detachment from the normal constraints and conventions of geography. Finding a time for the story is equally hazy. We are told that the end of the era of the Scottish witch-hunts took place a couple of generations earlier, and it seems we are entering the Scottish Enlightenment, so we are presumably in the first quarter of the 1700s: but the story is in many respects timeless.