As soon as I discover I’m reading a mystery that involves a serial killer, especially if the murders sound gruesome, I put the book in my discard pile. Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t put Carole Lawrence’s Edinburgh Twilight down at all. Midway through the book, I even looked to see what else she might have written and found two subsequent novels featuring Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton. I plan to read them, too.
Why? Because I love Lawrence’s settings and local color. Edinburgh Twilight, which takes place in 1881 Edinburgh, literally comes alive with the sights and scents and scenes of late-nineteenth-century Scotland. The characters visit most of the historic spots that highlight the city’s past. (I might add that they also visit most of the locales featured in Sir Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian. Anyone familiar with that novel, or with Edinburgh itself for that matter, will be entranced by Lawrence’s descriptions.)
Lawrence’s Scottish characters are delicious, too. Ian Hamilton is flawed but fascinating, with an enigmatic past and an emotional aloofness that attracts rather than repulses those around him. He is softened by his widowed Glaswegian aunt, who offers moral support, wisdom, and even artistic and photographic expertise. Hamilton’s chief and his sergeant are equally gruff and winsome. All together, they remind me of my Scottish roots, so their Highland and Lowland characteristics constantly amused me. Besides, what’s not to like about a cast of men and women who drink sherry and single malt scotch and who quote Robert Burns with great regularity? Lawrence adds many local eccentrics, too. The street Arabs, as young pickpockets and rapscallions then were called, are great fun. I hope Derek McNair, with the most potential of the street urchins, will reappear in subsequent Hamilton mysteries.
Like so many novels involving serial killers, the reader learns pertinent facts about the murderer long before Hamilton and his men discover the man’s identity. Lawrence certainly doesn’t make the killer sympathetic, but she does weave his upbringing and his family dynamics into his actions. That way, his deeds are explicable, if only in his diseased imagination. Interestingly enough, he and his brother share certain familial traits with D. I. Hamilton and his brother, which adds a keen psychological layer to the novel as well.
Edinburgh Twilight is the first Ian Hamilton mystery that Carole Lawrence has written. Edinburgh Dusk comes next, and it connects Hamilton with a young medical student, Arthur Conan Doyle, in their pursuit of another murderous misfit. A third novel, Edinburgh Midnight, is scheduled for release in 2020. I can’t wait to plunge into more of Edinburgh’s dark streets and alleys, its theatres and high-brow salons, its whole range of site-specific locales.
For example, the view from Arthur’s Seat “looming moodily over the city” introduces the first Edinburgh Twilight murder. “Gaslights sprinkled throughout the town shone deeply in the dim light as night surrendered reluctantly to a feeble gray sunrise. Edinburgh’s heavy stone buildings loomed over narrow cobblestoned streets so tortuous and twisted; they seemed to double back on themselves. Ian did not like the city, longing for the wide sky and soaring hills of the Highlands he had known as a boy.” So the Detective Inspector, in self-imposed exile to an unsettling urban environment, begins his first investigatory homicide case. – Ann Ronald
Also available by Carole Lawrence (aka Carole Bugge, C.E.Lawrence): Edinburgh Dusk; Edinburgh Midnight; Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Star of India and The Haunting of Torre Abbey; Claire Rawlings Mystery: Who Killed Balance Dubois, Who Killed Dorian Gray and Who Killed Mona Lisa;
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