Queen & Country: A Hew Cullan Mystery (Hew Cullan Mystery 5) by Shirley McKay

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Queen & Country: A Hew Cullan Mystery (Hew Cullan Mystery 5) by Shirley McKay

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Book 5 in the saga of doughty Elizabethan Scot Hew Cullan as he slowly works his way home to a Scotland savaged by disease and regicide. Classic Cullan, classic McKay, classic pleasure! (We're sad about the disease and regicide but you know what I mean.)
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Polygon An Imprint of Birlinn Limited
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846973123

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It has been three years since Hew was banished from Scotland and manoeuvred into working for Elizabeth I's spymaster, Walsingham. His loyalties remain with the Scottish Queen Mary but he must hide them as well as he can lest he becomes a victim of the conspiracy fever cutting through England and keeping the hangman busy. There's also another fever cutting through Scotland – the plague, providing even more reason for Hew to worry about the wellbeing of his sister, brother in law and nephew. If he could but go home he'd have a surprise for them. When he gets there, there's a surprise for him in the form of a death prophesy picture, followed by a murder.

If you have yet to catch up with Shirley McKay's doughty Elizabethan Scottish lawyer Hew Cullan, this, his 5th outing is a good place to start as they read well as one-offs. Each novel demonstrates Shirley's ability to bring home to us what it's like to be Scottish in the 16th century, not in a Braveheart/'Freedom!' way but in the every day's detail. This time to the worlds of law, medicine and the royal court which we Hew aficionados are accustomed, Shirley adds the world of the artist and their apprentices with some interesting results.

Queen and Country especially provides our imagination with the material to envisage the wave of anti-Scottish feeling in England before Scotland inevitably reacts in kind with reciprocal xenophobia. Unfortunately this has dire consequences for the Cullan household. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself!

Talking of getting ahead, the book blurb synopsis signposts some events that don't occur till the second half of the novel. Don't let that put you off though; the murder may take over 100 pages to surface but we have loads to keep us occupied and enthralled before we get there.

For instance, if you read Book 4, you'll remember Roger Cunningham, the lad whom along with his loutish brother, did Hew's ardour a lot of damage with a letter. Well he's not only back, he's apprenticed to Hew's brother in law, the good doctor Giles. Giles believes Roger to be a reformed character now he's grown up a bit and Roger is making all the right noises. The question is how far should we trust him?

Mixing with well-loved people like Giles and Hew's sister the wise woman and epilepsy sufferer Meg, we have Frances, Hew's new wife. (Not a spoiler, honest – it's in the book blurb.) In between the danger connected with Hew's tight rope walk between Walsingham on one side and pro-Scottish spy Thomas Phellipes on the other, the courtship is subtly sidled in. Admittedly it would blind-side us as it does Hew if we were in that much fear of our lives. As you can probably guess, Hew isn't successful in staying out of trouble completely and another meeting with Mary Queen of Scots doesn't help.

By the way, new readers and especially male new readers, please don't be put off by the idea that Hew has a romantic life. This is a historical fiction series that crosses the gender divide, adding intrigue to the excellent sense of time and place. Having said that I defy anyone, man or woman, to read that last page without finding something in their eye that makes it water. Hew may be a man's man but when the occasion calls for it, he has a hidden soft centre. Nicely done, Shirley!

(I'd like to thank Polygon/Birlinn for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this is your introduction to Hew Cullen, we recommend your next step being towards Time and Tide. If you're already a fan and enjoy a bit of crime mixed with your historical fiction, we just as heartily recommend Plague by CC Humphreys.

Buy Queen & Country: A Hew Cullan Mystery (Hew Cullan Mystery 5) by Shirley McKay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Queen & Country: A Hew Cullan Mystery (Hew Cullan Mystery 5) by Shirley McKay at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Queen & Country: A Hew Cullan Mystery (Hew Cullan Mystery 5) by Shirley McKay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Queen & Country: A Hew Cullan Mystery (Hew Cullan Mystery 5) by Shirley McKay at Amazon.com.


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