Title: The House at Ettrick Bay
Author: Myra Duffy
Genre: Cosy Crime
Alison Cameron’s friend, Susie, unexpectedly inherits a house on the Isle of Bute.
But someone is unhappy about Susie being the new owner of Ettrick House. When an accident turns out to be murder, Alison realises she and Susie are in danger.
A discovery at a nearby archaeological dig confirms her suspicions. There are others on the island with an interest in Ettrick House. And one of them is prepared to kill.
THE HOUSE AT ETTRICK BAY
Long buried secrets lead to murder.
At Ettrick Bay, the sun is going down, the rippling light casting long shadows across the water. Along the sand, the oyster catchers gather, shrieking in the gloaming. No boats disturb the tranquillity of the steel grey waters lapping at the shore.
The cattle in the fields beside the long path look up, startled by the sound of plough horses returning home. In the darkening sky, the stars appear one by one as the pale crescent moon casts a ghostly light across the fields ripe with corn.
High above the bay, Ettrick House stands brooding, steadfast against the autumn winds. Couch grass and bindweed choke the once well-tended flower beds and the long sweeping drive is pitted and potholed. The windows are shuttered, dark.
Alone in the silence of the empty house he sits nursing a glass of whisky, gazing at the pictures he sees in the flickering flames of the fire set against the chill of the evening.
Now, in his old age, the ghosts come back to haunt him. They give him no rest. And he wonders if tonight will be the night when she will at last be found.
She lay on her side, as though asleep, one arm crooked under her head as a substitute for a pillow. Sunlight filtered into the deep trench at the bottom of the lower gardens, illuminating her outline.
She looked quiet, at peace, in this most tranquil of places high in the hills above the calm waters of Ettrick Bay far below. If you looked closely you could see a few bits of what looked like pottery in the grave beside her, tiny remnants of a life lost. Her legs were curled up under her like a child’s, though even my untrained eye could see she was a fully-grown adult.
‘How do you know it’s a female?’ I asked.
Morgan Connolly, the archaeologist in charge of the dig, looked up. It was hard to make out his expression behind the long red beard and mass of curly hair he favoured. But he seemed happy to answer my questions.
‘You can tell by the shape of the pelvis,’ he said, bending down to my height as he pointed it out to me. ‘And the shape of the skull also helps, though that’s less useful.’
How long she had lain there, I wondered, as I watched the team go about their work. All that remained now were the bare bones of what had once been a living, breathing person.
Little bits of lichen clung to her feet and a tiny creature or two scuttled away into the remaining darkness, fretting at being so disturbed.
The archaeologists clustered round the trench did not share my concerns as they chattered excitedly about this discovery.
‘Stand back.’ Morgan was firm. ‘It’s essential the site isn’t contaminated.’
I turned to the slim young woman standing beside me. ‘Is it a murder victim?’ I whispered.
Penny Curtis smiled and shook her head. She pushed back the lock of long brown hair which had fallen over her face, leaving a little streak of mud on her forehead. Her large grey eyes were shining.
‘Doubtful, though Morgan will be able to tell soon. It’s much more likely to be an old skeleton.’ She waved her trowel around, spattering earth over her yellow safety jacket. ‘It’s possibly a very old skeleton indeed.’ She frowned and consulted a map she pulled out of her back pocket. ‘But there’s no record of a cemetery anywhere round here, so it is unusual and a great discovery.’
She smiled at me again, ‘There’s nothing we archaeologists like better than finding something like this. Don’t worry.’
She looked over at Morgan who was talking animatedly to the other member of the excavation team and said, almost as though speaking to herself, ‘Morgan will be incredibly pleased.’
‘Why?’ I could understand a find like this would be important to an archaeologist, but she spoke as if this skeleton were very special indeed.
She folded up the map and sighed. ‘Morgan’s been searching for the big discovery for some time now. He’s had this theory for years that there was a Roman settlement on Bute somewhere. This high ridge is one of the more likely spots. No one else credits his idea so if he’s proved right, it will be a major coup.’
I looked around me. Yes, I could well understand this stretch of land, high in the hills, would be an ideal site for a community to settle and to feel safe.
As though reading my thoughts she pointed over the fields to where the land began to curve steeply upwards. ‘You can see the raised beach from here. A great place to build a settlement in ancient times.’
If Morgan was proved right, his reputation would be made. Papers by the score, conferences in overseas universities: the academic world would be at his feet.
I became aware my husband, Simon, was speaking. ‘What happens next, Morgan?’
Morgan frowned and scratched his head. ‘First we have to excavate the skeleton and discard any extraneous material. You often find bits of animal bone in an old site like this. Then we have to date the skeleton and assure the local police it’s ancient enough for this not to be a murder enquiry.’
I looked away from the activity of the trench and down the sweep of hills towards the half circle of the bay. The sun blazed down from a cloudless sky and the heat was becoming so strong you could almost smell it. But I shivered despite the warmth and draped my jacket back over my shoulders. This might be all in a day’s work to these professionals, but it was the first time I’d seen anything like it. How had the skeleton come to be here, in the grounds of this house at Ettrick Bay?
Why is your featured book a must-read?
If you like cosy crime set on a beautiful island in Scotland, then the Isle of Bute Mystery series should be high on your list. Featuring an amateur female sleuth described by one reviewer as ‘…an ordinary woman with an extraordinary nose for crime,’ Alison Cameron becomes involved in mystery and murder against her better judgement.
The small community of the island, with its gossip and rumours, is the perfect setting for mystery and intrigue. And the interweaving of the unique history and geography of the island adds an extra dimension to the plot.
What could be better this year, when travel to holiday destinations is difficult, than a cosy crime novel set on an island where there are so many wonderful beaches?
Giveaway – Enter to win an e-book bundle of all 51 books featured in the Beach Reads Bookish Event: https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/92db775068/ Open Internationally. Runs July 17 – 22, 2020. Winner will be drawn on July 30, 2020.
As a child, Myra lived opposite the local library, an exciting location for someone who loved to read. Soon she was inspired to write her own novels. One still survives, though at 900 words might prove too short for today’s market!
At thirteen she won a writing competition organised by a national newspaper. The prize was a puppy – something that certainly wouldn’t be allowed nowadays.
After some years teaching in Madrid and in London, Myra returned to Scotland and a career in educational management.
During this time she continued to write and be published, mostly in non-fiction. But success with short stories encouraged her to return to her first love – fiction. The House at Ettrick Bay is the first in her cosy crime series of eight novels and four novellas set on the Isle of Bute, just off the west coast of Scotland.
Myra Duffy divides her time between Glasgow and the Isle of Bute. She has family connections to the island stretching back several generations and finds exploring the island gives her lots of inspiration for her novels.
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