The Malice of Waves (Cal McGill 3) by Mark Douglas-Home

The Island of Adventure…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Young Max Wheeler goes off to spend the night camping on uninhabited Priest’s Island, a storm-tossed island in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. His rich father had bought the island as a playground for him a couple of years earlier, much to the annoyance of the townspeople on the neighbouring island of Eilean Dubh, who resented this intrusion into their traditional way of life. Priest’s Island had belonged for generations to a local family who had used it for grazing their sheep. When Max fails to return and no trace of him is found, Ewan, the local lad who would have inherited the island had it not been sold to the Wheelers, quickly becomes the chief suspect. But no evidence has ever been found to allow him to be charged. Five years on, Max’s father has hired Cal McGill, an oceanographer and expert in tides and waves, in a last ditch effort to trace Max’s body. But Cal’s appearance stirs old fears and resentments amongst the townspeople and soon danger stalks more than one inhabitant…

This is the third in the Cal McGill series but the first I’ve read. It worked perfectly well as a standalone and I didn’t feel I was missing anything from not having read the earlier books. The mystery element of the plot is very good – I didn’t get close to the solution but, when it was revealed, felt that it was well within the bounds of credibility. I did think the plotting lacked a little by failing to provide possible alternative explanations though – there weren’t too many red herrings sending me off in the wrong direction. This meant that for quite a long time in the middle I felt the investigation element was rather underdeveloped – neither Cal nor his police officer sidekick Helen Jamieson seemed to be doing very much other than treading water (pun intended) while hoping someone might let something slip. In fact, Cal’s specialism played very little part in the story – always a problem when an amateur detective is given such a specific profession.

However, the depiction of the isolated small town on the edge of nowhere is done very well although, oddly, it lacks any feeling of Scottishness – no dialect, no Scottish traditions, not even Scottish cakes in the tea-shop at the heart of the community. It could as easily have been a small island community set anywhere in the world. But the way they band together when one of their number is threatened feels very realistic, as does the way they all know everything about each other and make allowances for one another’s quirks. The weather plays a large part in the story, and Douglas-Home gives excellent descriptions of the wildness of storms and how quickly these island communities can be cut off from the mainland.

There’s a sub-plot involving an egg-collector – a hobby that’s now illegal in order to protect threatened bird species. I found all the stuff about this added a real level of interest to the story – it feels well-researched and authentic, and sent me off to google images of some of the eggs and nests mentioned. Since some of these collectors go to ridiculous lengths in pursuit of rare eggs, it also allows for some hair-raisingly dangerous exploits and extra suspense (that’s also a pun, but if you want to know why, you’ll have to read the book…).

Mark Douglas-Home
Picture by: Alan Hillyer/Writer Pictures

The writing is very good – third person past tense – hurrah! In this episode we don’t get to know too much about Cal’s life – there’s a little history about his relationship with his father but not much else. However we learn more about Helen Jamieson. She’s a police officer, refreshingly competent and angst-free apart from her apparently unrequited longings for Cal, but she doesn’t allow these to get in the way of having a good professional relationship with him. I actually found myself thinking of her as the central character rather than Cal, so I hope she’s a recurring character in the series.

Overall, I enjoyed this one a lot, and will happily look out for more in this series. Recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

43 thoughts on “The Malice of Waves (Cal McGill 3) by Mark Douglas-Home

  1. ‘There’s a sub-plot involving an egg-collector…’ somehow this cheered me no end! I’ve no idea why, it just sounds rather jolly.
    This sounds like a very promising read and I am delighted to hear that the police officer is competent and angst-free! Such a nice change.
    I have missed you, FF – have you been on a hiatus or have I just managed to miss your posts? 🙂

    • I know! I spent the whole book fantasising about a deserted island – just me and the cats. And regular supermarket deliveries…

      Thank you – hurrah! It was so good to see him win! 😀

  2. I think the absence of Scottish tea cakes will stop me reading this………..How lovely to find you in my ‘followed posts’.

    I was expecting this, mind you, after the US open finished. Have to admit (can we still be friends?) I was hoping for Del Potro as first choice, but very happy for Rafa. How sad is (not SEEING) the matches but seeing the scores with some 5 live commentary and/or online Guardian reports of the late afternoon/early evening UK matches

    I rather wanted Venus to get the women’s, for old times sake, but the result is encouraging for the women’s game in American tennis, with 4 semifinalists

    • Yes, I searched for snowballs and shortbread amidst the lemon muffins, but in vain! Thank you – a rather unplanned hiatus, I fear, but at least it coincided with the tennis! Ooh, no – I like Delpo, but was so happy to see Rafa win! It wasn’t the best tournament though – too many of the big names missing and the younger ones still just aren’t quite setting my heart on fire. Ha – at least not seeing the matches probably meant you got more sleep than I did!

      Yes, there were some great matches in the women’s, especially Venus and Petra (I really wanted Petra to win – she’s become my heroine after the way she handled her burglar). Unfortunately the final was another of these awful damp squibs the women so often give us, making me question yet again exactly why they get equal prize money…

    • “The idea of a connected and collected story has obviously visited and abandoned its writer again and again in the course of composition.” Hahaha! I wish I’d said that! I also wish I’d called my cats Rafa and Serena – I wonder if it’s too late to change their names…

      The egg exhibition might be quite interesting – I was surprised to find myself googling and some of them are lovely. Aw, thank you – good to be back! 😀

  3. I read this about a week ago and found it refreshingly off the beaten path. The egg hunting was an added interest and really showed the obsessive nature of this character. I loved the extremes of the islanders emotions and the storm’s depiction. A very realistic impression, I think, of working a cold case from a new angle.

    • Yes, it’s a little different from the usual run of things, isn’t it? I thought his descriptive writing was excellent, especially of the wild weather and nature stuff. And I liked the two main characters. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it too – I’ll definitely look out for more from this series… 🙂

  4. Very glad you enjoyed this, FictionFan. I think this is actually a very well-written series, with some solid characters. So I do recommend that you try the first two if/when you get the chance. Interesting about those small island communities; there’s one in The Sea Detective, too, that you might find interesting.

    • Yes, I thought his writing was excellent, especially the descriptive stuff about the wild weather and nature and so on. The characterisation is very good too. Thanks for the recommendation – good to hear the other books in the series are just as enjoyable. 😀

  5. Good to have you back especially with a good crime novel set in Scotland, even if much of the Scottishness was absent! I do like the sound of the female lead particularly if you were able to forgive her those unrequited longings for Cal.

  6. FF!! You’re back! I’ve missed you, my friend. I guess you’ve been watching tennis (surprised you didn’t find a way to put a picture of Rafa the champion on here!) Anyway, this one sounds pretty interesting — not sufficiently to eliminate something else from my TBR, but a possibility for addition. We will see.

    • Aw, thank you! Nice to be missed! 😀 Partly tennis and partly life getting a little fraught, but all’s well on the way back to normality, happily. Ha – stick around, kid – Rafa may yet appear… 😉 Yes, this one is good but not spectacular enough for me to do serious arm-twisting – maybe when I read another on the series, your TBR will be in a better condition…

  7. I missed you FF! Ok enough of that sentimental nonsense, back to the books haha

    THis one sounds really interesting, the premise itself is quite unique, a person with their own island as playground? Very cool!

  8. Welcome back FF, I’ve also been dragged away from blogging which is why I’m only just catching up on posts! This really appeals to me, I like the remote setting, but it’s a shame it could have been anywhere. I’m trying to work out the egg collecting pun – is there an elaborate stocking and suspenders contraption involved? I remember someone on Death in Paradise stealing eggs in socks….

    • Oh, I hope all’s well – happily life has returned to normality at my end. Hahaha! I wish the pun had been that exciting – that sounds so much more fun than the actual reason (think dangling over cliffs on ropes to get at nests…) I was surprised at the lack of Scottishness but maybe it was intentional – dialect and stuff can put a lot of readers off.

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