This is an odd sort of book. Part murder mystery, part poetic eulogy to the scenic Highlands of Scotland, part description of a recovering claustrophobic and part despairing (and very funny) description of the post-war way of life in the Highlands.
Here’s the plot: Scotland Yard detective Alan Grant is given some time off to recover from what we might nowadays call a nervous breakdown. He goes to his native Scotland to spend a month of restful fishing and striding about the heather with old friends. But on the sleeper travelling north, another passenger arrives dead in his cabin, and initiates the murder mystery part of the story. The various flimsy clues about the dead man lead Grant to the Outer Hebrides and eventually back to London. Along the way, he encounters an unlikely revolutionary, an aristocratic almost-love-interest and any number of caricature locals, who may or may not be accurately drawn portraits of the era, it’s hard to tell.
Of the various disparate parts, the murder mystery is the least convincing. Abandoned for more interesting trains of thought for much of the book, it only truly comes to life late in the day, with a highly implausible explanation of events, and a finish that had me rolling my eyes in disbelief. Overall, however, the humour (especially the visit to the outer isles, which Highlanders assure me is a totally accurate picture) and the delightful descriptions of the Highlands won me over. Four stars.