The Stranger From Home by Frederic Lindsay

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The Stranger From Home by Frederic Lindsay

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Paul Curd
Reviewed by Paul Curd
Summary: There are two separate and unrelated stories packed into this one novel – one concerning the stranger of the title, the other concerning a missing woman. If you enjoy getting to the bottom of a good mystery then you'll get double your money's worth with this book!
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 288 Date: February 2008
Publisher: Allison & Busby
ISBN: 978-0749080136

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Betty Meldrum, escaping the turmoil of her life back in Edinburgh (a turmoil presumably described in previous books in Lindsay's Jim Meldrum series), is now living in the United States. She shares an apartment in Washington DC, where she quickly forms a bond with one of her flatmates, a sharp-featured blonde in her early thirties. The blonde invites Betty to her wedding in a small town in Texas. It is at this wedding that she meets the eponymous stranger from home: a blue-eyed man with a Scots accent. By page six of the novel they are married.

Betty, it now turns out (although if you were a Frederic Lindsay fan you would already know this) is the daughter of Detective Inspector Jim Meldrum. Meldrum is an Edinburgh cop who even when at home eats his fish and chip suppers with his fingers, straight from the paper wrapping. He lives alone in a mouse-infested garret in a run down area of the city. A place where a man in a heavy cloth coat looks out of place. When his ex-wife phones to tell him of Betty's marriage Meldrum is bruised at how distant his daughter has grown from him, and yet he seems more concerned with an altercation he sees from his kitchen window. The man in the expensive cloth coat has just brutally attacked a loitering youth. It is this attack, rather than his daughter's sudden and unexpected marriage, that plays on Meldrum's mind that night.

Back in the states, the scene has shifted to Phoenix, Arizona. Betty's new husband (and newcomers to Lindsay's books) are finding out a little more about her chequered past. But we find out very little about the husband. He is a man of mystery, and no sooner has he arrived in Betty's life than he has disappeared. The sympathetic woman detective who initially deals with the disappearance is quickly replaced by two male officers, men who may or may not be police officers. The mystery deepens when the woman detective phones Meldrum in Edinburgh to tip him off about the disappearance. Your daughter gets in contact, tell her to come home, she says. She'll be safe at home.

The story moves along at a hectic pace, and when Betty does indeed come home to Edinburgh she soon discovers her problems have not remained behind in Phoenix. Meldrum gets slowly drawn into the murky world of his daughter's new husband – or, at least, the periphery of that murky world. At the same time, he and his sidekick Detective Sergeant McGuigan are busily trying to unravel a separate mystery: the disappearance of a wealthy businessman's wife from her village home.

This is the first Frederic Lindsay book I've read. It is also the eighth novel in the Jim Meldrum series and so, as a latecomer, I was a stranger myself to the lead characters. Lindsay has written elsewhere about the problem of writing about the series detective. He warns that, . . . the reader may chafe against too much exposition of [the detective's] previous situation . . . For a newcomer to the series, though, Lindsay's seeming reluctance to provide an exposition of his detective's character and previous situation can be a hindrance. I never really felt I had got to know Meldrum or the other key players well enough to care about them. At the same time, the mysterious men from Phoenix were of necessity dark and murky and, well, mysterious. They were also 'alien' – they didn't belong in Edinburgh and I never quite believed Lindsay's premise for taking them there.

The result, for me, was that the principal interest in this novel lay in the disappearance of the businessman's wife, and the characters involved with that little mystery. I didn't much care for Betty or her husband, but I was intrigued by the deftly drawn villagers and their complicated relationships. Did the businessman kill his wife, or has she really simply left him? If she really is dead, why would he have killed her? And who else is involved? This element of the novel was, to me, far more interesting.

I'm sure that, if you are already familiar with the Jim Meldrum series of novels, you will not share my difficulties in associating with Meldrum, Betty and especially McGuigan (who never quite comes alive for me, even by the end of the book where he begins to play an increasingly significant role that will no doubt be further developed in the next book in the series). But even if you are, like me, a newcomer you will almost certainly be caught up in the pace of the novel, and the twists and turns of the dual plots.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin or Cold in Hand by John Harvey.

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