1588: A Calendar of Crime (A Hew Cullan Mystery) by Shirley McKay

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1588: A Calendar of Crime (A Hew Cullan Mystery) by Shirley McKay

Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Five self-contained murders linked by a year in the life of Hew Cullen and Shirley McKay's sublime narration. A great introduction to anyone yet to meet our Scottish 16th century law lecturer, legal investigator.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: November 2016
Publisher: Polygon
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846973635

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A lot of crime happens in St Andrews during 1588 and therefore in the life of law lecturer and local investigator Hew Cullen too. As we travel through the year with him, his recently wedded English wife Frances, doctor brother in law Giles and his sister Meg, the wise woman, we also encounter some of his most interesting cases. In fact there's one to match each of the year's big festivals: Candlemas, Whitsun, Lammas, Martinmas and Yule.

As Christmas hastens towards us it's traditional for us to look back at the past year and reminisce. One of our favourite historical crime authors Shirley McKay has plugged into that zeitgeist with a Hew Cullen book that offers a bumper bundle of murder and mayhem, not to mention the sort of year that makes ours look rather less eventful by comparison.

The book itself is effectively five short stories as there's a self-contained crime, from background to moment of death, investigation and resulting revelation in each of the five sections. However, this shouldn't put off short story haters as there's also a feeling of continuity not normally present in the genre as Hew's life runs through it, providing a sense of continuity and the feel of a single novel.

Hew is now happily married but the fact that his Mrs is English causes a few issues in a 16th century separatist Scotland. His marriage also gives cause for concern in other areas, one of which demonstrates Shirley's ability to tease as we wander through to the beginning of Whitsun.

The crimes themselves are as varied as the twists they produce. Candlemas heralds the death of a local tradesman whose past and manner mean there are no shortage of suspects. Whitsun provides a body that then promptly vanishes. By Lammas the weather is warming and thoughts turn to the Lammas fair and love, with tragic consequences. Martinmas includes Halloween so be prepared for a chill or two in the spinal area! Yule brings the usual revelry in food and song but we know by now in this book that it's not all going to be joyous.

As always Shirley mixes intrigue with wonderful historical insight. I particularly loved the superstition on show at Whitsun regarding the problems surrounding a certain bird. We're also shown a lightbulb moment when it comes to the after effects of the latest dose of plague on St Andrews University. Then there are the memorable quotes. I still smile at Golf is a game that stands up well to wind. Indeed, make of that what you will!

In addition to our usual Cullen character family a blast from the past returns. Remember Colin Snell, one of the students we followers of the series have wanted to kick for pure nastiness? He's now a man and is on the end of a McKay-devised fate that's better than mere violence. Thank you Shirley!

All in all this is a wonderful snuggle round the blazing fire… or radiator… read for this Christmas, divided into chunks that fit well in between our families' demands, each story long enough to distract from after-dinner snores. Most definitely one for the stockings of Cullenophiles and newbies alike!

(The usual hearty thanks to Polygon for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you want more Hew Cullan, we heartily recommend Time and Tide for starters. If you're already a fan with a penchant for historical crime, we also recommend The Devil's Feast by M J Carter or the Cromwellian world of The Black Friar: Damian Seeker 2 by S G Maclean.

Buy 1588: A Calendar of Crime (A Hew Cullan Mystery) by Shirley McKay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy 1588: A Calendar of Crime (A Hew Cullan Mystery) by Shirley McKay at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy 1588: A Calendar of Crime (A Hew Cullan Mystery) by Shirley McKay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy 1588: A Calendar of Crime (A Hew Cullan Mystery) by Shirley McKay at Amazon.com.


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