Andrew James Grieg (2020) Whirligig.

A whirligig is a spinning top, a small predatory beetle, and a way of describing, for example, coming and goings. I quickly ripped through Andrew James Greig’s short, breakout, novel. Glen Mhor (Inverness) provides a Highland setting for skulduggery in this whodunnit. Four murders and a former top policeman forced to commit suicide, run in tandem with eight children that went missing from a home run by the Sisters of Mercy. Five shallow graves. A vigilante on a revenge mission. All the action takes place in a week. 

It took me a few chapters to figure out each short chapter was prefigured by the image of a cogwheel, which in the book are carved from bone. That too is a mystery. In chapter 1, cogwheel 1, for example, the time is 06.20 and Oscar is going to die – and go unmourned.   

'The front door slammed with such violence the whole house shook, quivering timbers seeking comfort in the cold embrace of stone. Margo tensed in her bed, feeling the floor shake in sympathy. Nervously, she lay waiting for the angry wasp sound of his quad as it disappeared down the lonely track that led away from the isolated cottage. Only when the engine noise had faded did she allow herself to relax. He’d be gone all day, setting traps for the rabbits, laying poison for birds of prey, shooting the mountain hares. Death. Death and violence was all she ever associated with him now.'

The narrative is told from a pregant Margo’s point of view. It shifts to Oscar’s, before his death. Omniscient point of view.  At one point it becomes the eyes of one of two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, hunting dogs, looking at his master, the Laird and Sheriff, out of water and out of luck, locked in a remote bothy with a box of salted crops. You can probably guess what happens next. I guessed quite early who the vigilante, killer, was. I guess that makes me a genius? Discuss.

All Detectives have sidekicks. Detective Inspector Corstophine lost his wife, 5 years ago. Aged 41. He’s young enough to be still looking. His dead wife sometimes pops up for a chat, the gist of which is, he should be getting on with his life. The gist of which is, I think, his dead wife should be exorcised from the book.

‘Sometimes Frankie reminded him of his wife.’

Don’t be jumping to conclusions here. Detective Constable Frankie McKenzie, three years married, three years divorced. Corstophine’s sidekick, in a will they, won’t they, or might they, if they weren’t trying to solve all those murders that have suddenly piled up on their desk and seem to be connected to the hanging tree and the death of local reporter, June Stevens, an apparent suicide in 1997? Her six-year-old daughter had also gone missing.

The clock is ticking. His ex-boss taunts him or warns him:

‘Your investigation will be closed down. There’ s no way they can allow something the establishment can allow something this big to get out. What’s a few unloved children compared to the sanctity of the British establishment?’

Lord Lagan and the ball at Strathcarron hotel. Large shooting estates and the rich people that live in them. The poor people dependent on them. Will the whole shooting match go up in smoke? Read on.