Author: Louise Welsh, 2010.
Genre: Literary Mystery. Drugs. Suicide.
Other Details: Paperback. 391 pages
Dr. Murray Watson has applied for a sabbatical from his post at Glasgow University in order to write a biography of neglected Scottish poet Archie Lunan, who had drowned in a sailing accident more than thirty years ago off the remote island of Lismore. Watson has been fascinated by Lunan's poetry since he first read it in his teens and wishes to bring his work to a wider audience. There is a degree of mystery surrounding Lunan's death. Although there is only a limited amount of archive material available, Watson is determined to discover more about Lunan's life and seeks out the few people still alive who had known him. He also intends to travel to Lismore in order to try and see Lunan's former lover, herself a reclusive writer who has refused to meet with him. On Lismore he stumbles onto more than he bargained for as secrets that should have remained buried come to light.
The cover blurb and even the synopsis on the author's website suggests this is a fast-paced thriller which it isn't. This is a literary mystery in which the tension builds very slowly to a dramatic climax in its final chapters. Aside from his quest to discover more about Archie Lunan's life and death, Dr. Watson broods his way very effectively through a number of personal issues including an estrangement from his brother and the fall-out from an adulterous affair with a fellow professor, who is also the wife of his head of department. The novel also explores the issue of whether a writer's work requires that their personal life be laid bear for examination or should stand alone.
It is a thoughtful, intellectual novel and one I enjoyed very much despite the 'false advertising' of the back cover. Welsh does a sterling job of conveying her setting from the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh to the stark beauty of Lismore itself. The novel's slow pace was fine by me. The characters were well-drawn and believable with Watson taking top honours in terms of likeability. There were also some tantalising suggestions of characters having dabbled with occult practices. I would also caution that part of his quest leads him to examine the papers of a researcher engaged in the study of suicide and there were some disturbing elements linked to this.
After this very positive experience I'm planning to read more of her work.