Time and Tide by Shirley McKay

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Time and Tide by Shirley McKay

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: This is everything you want from light historical crime: intrigue bearing a humorous twinkle and packed with 'Didn't know that!' type facts. Shirley McKay's latest offering in the 16th century Hew Cullan series is a book for light escapism in all seasons, be it snuggling down in the winter or beside a summer beach.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: April 2012
Publisher: Polygon An Imprint of Birlinn Limited
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846972188

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A ship is wrecked on the coast of 16th century Scotland, the crew gone, the only man on board dying and a windmill lashed to its deck. What happened? What sort of illness does it carry? And, more importantly for the town's people, who gets to keep the windmill? It's a tough one, but university professor and erstwhile lawyer Hew Cullan is on the case.

One of the great joys of being a Bookbagger... a Bookbag... of being here... is being introduced to a whole realm of authors and books that would normally pass me by. Shirley McKay and her Hew Cullan series are a case in point. Time and Tide is the third Hew Cullan novel so, if like me, you've just arrived, a quick catch-up may be in order.

Hew is employed by the local university but, due to his lecture timetable, spends more time (luckily for us) sleuthing for the good people of St Andrews. His best friend and brother-in-law, Giles, happens to be a doctor. (If you're going to keep bumping into murder victims, a doctor will always come in handy.) Also Hew isn't married so there's much opportunity for love interest and all the accompanying problems and plot possibilities.

Shirley McKay has been clever for, not only does this book work historically, but it has a certain relevance that we recognise today. Take Hew's sister (Giles' wife) Meg. She may be a product of her time, but she's also practically a product of ours: a feisty, intelligent woman who, we'd recognise almost as a feminist, having her own opinions and ideas mixed in with being a homemaker and mother. Also she has 'falling sickness' (or epilepsy as we now call it). I found this fascinating. Having grown up with stories of how, in less enlightened ages, epileptics were treated as if they were possessed, it now seems, that there is no record of any stigma being attached to the disease in the 16th and 17th centuries, making Shirley McKay's representation of a 16th century sufferer quite an accurate portrayal. Meg's husband is always checking the latest medical progress for the disease, but her episodes of illness are taken as just being part of her life as should be the case today as well as then.

The community of St Andrews is as big a star in this novel as the main characters. The people, good and bad, are just trying to survive. Human nature may not have changed in that time, but other things have and, accordingly, the author ensures Time and Tides is seamlessly rippled with period colour and factoids. For instance, did you know that they ate a form of fondue in 16th century Scotland? Also, (look away now if you're of a delicate disposition) the length of a man's member was thought to be in direct proportion to the length of umbilical cord left when cut at birth. No further comments... I'll just walk away from that one now.

If you're in it for storyline rather than historical accuracy, there's plenty. The mystery moves along at a cracking rate, nicely layered with intrigue and twists in a similar way to the books of C J Sansom and S J Parris. There are arguments regarding the windmill (an expensive asset so if one turned up free...), plenty of bodies and a chance to see a bit of 16th century Europe. If I have any mild niggles, firstly the revelation of the killer for most of the body count is dealt with very quickly (almost as if we had to be told in a hurry before we ran out of story) and secondly I wasn't that happy with the joke about the Scots' lack of nutrition. It may prove that nothing has changed, but it felt a bit like playing to stereotypes. Having said that, I wouldn't let either niggle stop me reading it again, or, indeed, prevent me from tracing Hew Cullan's steps from the beginning. I enjoyed making his acquaintance and look forward to meeting up with him again soon.

I would like to thank the publisher for giving Bookbag a copy of this book for review.

If you enjoyed this and would like to dip into another historic crime sleuth with a back catalogue, why not try C J Sansom's Matthew Shardlake books.

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Buy Time and Tide by Shirley McKay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Time and Tide by Shirley McKay at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Time and Tide by Shirley McKay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Time and Tide by Shirley McKay at Amazon.com.


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