The Shetland Islands are the backdrop for another murder mystery by Marsali Taylor.
It’s the dark nights in the run up to Christmas, and sailing sleuth Cass Lynch’s first night on dry land is disturbed by strange noises outside her isolated cottage. Tiny footprints in the moonlit snow trail from her front door before mysteriously disappearing. Soon Cass learns others were visited by the same tiny feet in the night.
It looks like ingenious local teenagers playing tricks – but what happens when festive games turn deadly?
Cass soon finds out as a schoolboy disappears, leaving only a trail of footprints into the middle of a snowy field. She’s determined to investigate, but uncovering the truth will also put her in danger . . .
Chapter One Extract One
trow: The trows were Shetland’s “little people”, who lived in mounds in the hill, and could only come out after dark. They liked bright colours, feasting and music (there are tales of human fiddlers being kidnapped underground for a trowie wedding), and were known for working mischief about the croft; sometimes their actions were more sinister, like substitut- ing a baby of their own for a human child (Old Norse, troll)
There was the sound of children giggling, stifled quickly as if they were up to mischief; a group of trainees planning some devilment. Kitten growled and jumped down from the bed. Whoever was on watch would deal with it, I thought, hunch- ing into the bedcover, and the thought jerked me awake. I wasn’t in my cabin aboard Sørlandet but in Gavin’s cottage in Shetland. Our nearest neighbour was a mile away over the hill, and didn’t have children.
I eased my nose out from under the downie and listened. Cat stirred and sat up. Nothing; silence, that dead silence after snow had fallen. There had been the first few flakes as Gavin had driven me back from the airport, followed by a rattle of haily puckles that had covered the ground in white; a good base for snow to lie on. I tilted my head up to look out of the window. Yes, more had fallen while I’d slept. The low hill of Papa Little was blue-white in the moonlight, and the stars sparked with cold light.
I reached for my watch and pressed the button to light up the face. Half past eleven. Naturally the youngsters of the ship’s watch would be up at that hour, but I wasn’t on board ship now. All good land children were tucked up in their beds, sleeping peacefully, or illicitly playing on their computers or texting their friends. They weren’t wandering round a cottage miles from anywhere.
I was thoroughly awake now. Sørlandet had spent the last two months exploring the eastern seaboard of the States, and my body-clock was telling me it was six in the evening. I’d had a short nap to refesh me, and now I could get up and party. Beside me, Gavin was curved over on his side, back towards me, his breathing deep and even.
I slid out of bed and padded over to the window. The sliver of crescent moon had gone down, but the clear sky gave a pale light over the snowy hills and stars gleamed in the depths of the coal black water. There was no sign of move- ment anywhere, yet I had this sense of something stirring in the darkness. Kitten looked downwards from the sill, growled again, then trotted downstairs. I heard the clack of the cat flap.
Whatever it was, I supposed I’d better inspect. Maybe the ponies in the field behind the house had broken into the gar- den. I lifted up my bundle of clothes from the chair, and was tiptoeing out of the bedroom when I heard a car start up, way in the distance. I wouldn’t have heard it at all if I hadn’t been awake, if the back skylight hadn’t been open, if it hadn’t been such a still night. I reached the window just as the sound died away, and thought I saw a brief flash of headlights move across the starry sky. The silence closed in again.
I went slowly downstairs, not switching the light on. The ground shifted disconcertingly under me, as if the land had become fluid. It would take a couple of days before my balance adjusted. Freezing lino under my feet, the air icy on my skin.
Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland’s scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland’s distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women’s suffrage in Shetland. She’s also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.