The Rat Stone Serenade by Denzil Meyrick

Too much of a good thing…

🙂 🙂 🙂

the rat stone serenadeA hundred years ago, blacksmith Nathaniel Stuart was driven off his property in Blaan, a village on the southernmost tip of the remote Kintyre peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. Of tinker stock, Stuart cursed the landowner Archie Shannon, declaring that every fifty years calamity will befall his family and their descendants until the end of time. Fifty years later, young Archie Shannon hid from his mother in the woods behind their home for a lark – and was never seen again. Now, in the present day, the Shannon family is returning to their ancestral home in Blaan for the annual general meeting of the hugely successful international company they now own. But things take a sinister turn when the bones of a young child are discovered on the Rat Stone, an ancient site surrounded by much superstition and fear…

There is so much to like about this book that I really wish I was recommending it more highly. It’s very well written, and the recurring characters of DCI Daley and his small team are done well – each with a distinct personality, each flawed, but all likeable as individuals and working well together as a team. The remoteness of this part of the world is increased when an unusually severe snowstorm cuts off the roads to the mainland and causes power cuts throughout the area. Meyrick creates an excellent atmosphere of isolation and menace, with some nicely spine-tingling supernatural undertones. With no likelihood of reinforcements getting through any time soon, it’s up to Daley and his colleagues not just to investigate the old bones but to try to stop the sudden crime wave that is sweeping through the village.

And therein lies the problem. Too much, too much! The body count is completely ridiculous! For a large proportion of the early part of the book, each chapter introduces us to someone who is then gruesomely killed. It seems like there’s a million strands each resulting in gory death for someone and for a long time, too long, the connection between all these events is entirely unclear. And with so many deaths happening so quickly, these characters are no more than names, so that when they’re referred to later in the book, I was having real difficulties remembering who they were or how and where they died.

The book is like an Irish stew – everything has been thrown in. One detective is an alcoholic trying to lay off the booze, while a couple of the others are having an affair with each other. There are dead businessmen, human sacrifices, dodgy business dealings, vicars with secrets, ex-nuns, tinkers’ curses and about three people all having visions, either supernatural, caused by drink or due to brain damage. Corpses with their skin flayed, corpses on bonfires, corpses on sacrificial stones. Every now and again new people had to arrive by helicopter or boat just to replenish the stock of people to bump off. One felt an investigation wasn’t really necessary – leave it a couple of days and only the bad guy would be left alive!

Denzil Meyrick
Denzil Meyrick

One of the detectives is given what I think is supposed to be a Glasgow accent, though it feels more like an anglicised speaker’s idea of what a generic Scottish dialect sounded like circa 1950 – a bit too Sunday Post (which will mean nothing to non-Scots – sorry! Twee, perhaps, is the closest comparison). However, kudos to the author for at least trying to keep the book feeling Scottish in tone, and I must say my ‘ear’ did get tuned in to the dialect after a while, and it began to sound more authentic. (And one of the characters lives in Kirkintilloch – my very own little hometown!)

It picks up towards the end and, while the supernatural stuff is left hanging for the most part, the rest of it is explained, even if the credibility is stretched way past breaking point. Despite all the ridiculous stuff, it’s still very readable because of the overall quality of the writing. Although I really feel this one goes so far over the top it becomes farcical, I would be willing to read another in this series. I was reminded of the artist Agatha Troy, in Ngaio Marsh’s books, who never knew when one of her pictures was finished and needed her lover Roderick Alleyn to tell her when to stop painting. I really hope Meyrick can find an editor who will perform the same function for him (the stopping bit, not the lover-ing bit!) and tell him when enough is enough. Loads of potential in this series – I hope in future books to see it fulfilled.

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