There’s a reason why this novel was shortlisted for the Bloody Scotland Scottish Crime Debut of the Year​. A few reasons, really. It hits on just about every classic Scottish mystery element readers know and love. Burke and Hare, a chase across the Highlands, a murder at a remote lighthouse, a disreputable English bureaucrat, ghost ships, and early modern medicine.

Doctor Mungo Lyon is a surgeon of some promise until his teacher and mentor Robert Knox colludes with the infamous Burke and Hare. Though many looked the other way at the unseemly process of bodysnatching for medical purposes, Burke and Hare went a step too far in procuring fresh bodies. Lyon, by association, is forced to give up his career – which makes him the perfect (desperate) candidate for a special off-the-books mission.

He is recruited by a customs officer and a Scottish Lord to investigate a ghost ship that crashes on the coast, manned entirely by deceased yellow fever victims and the possibly related murder of a lighthouse keeper nearby. And there are any number of factions who want him to fail on this mission.

Lyon sets off across the country via canal barge, horseback, and foot in a cat-and-mouse chase reminiscent of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps. 

I emerged through the foliage into a barley field and following its edge downhill came to a path which led south a few miles. Then, spying another path, I struck out along that, my feet slipping in mud from time to time but otherwise no different from the country lanes of my youth. … Resting against a tree I began to despair at the thought of the hours till dawn, certain in the knowledge that my pursuers would be close on my heels, their determination to capture me only in creased by the death I’d almost certainly inflicted on one of their own. That thought spurred me on as I forced my way through heather, bracken and scrub. ~ Loc. 411

The locations go on to include whisky distilleries, manor houses, smugglers’ caves, and even a transatlantic crossing to the Caribbean.

The Crown Agent is a rollicking adventure novel. It moves quickly, like any escapade should, with plenty of villains, henchmen, and compelling-enough hero. And just for fun, Hare himself makes occasional appearances along the way.

Smuggler’s Cave, F. Danby, 1858

 

The moon gleamed in a star bright sky, and nothing stirred save a fox scampering across our path as we hurried towards the harbour. Hare was cautious, keeping to the shadows and stopping at every corner to listen for anyone on the road, but not a soul did we encounter. … Long and low, it was a strange building from a different time, forgotten and left to stand when all about had been demolished to make way for the modern age. ~ Loc. 2168

My rating: 

Read via NetGalley. My thanks to Sandstone Press for the review copy.

Publisher: Sandstone Press
Language: English
Hardcover: 228 pages
ISBN-10: 1912240769
ISBN-13: 978-1912240760

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