Death in a Scarlet Gown is the first book in the Murray of Letho series.It's an historical, crime mystery and I was looking forward to finding out about my literary namesake.
Charles Murray is a student at a Scottish university which is unexpectedly wracked by murder.Not one but three corpses are discovered and Charles gets involved in unravelling the plot.
I'm saying nothing more about the plotknowing how easy it is to give something away and ruin the suspense except that it is unusual and intriguing. This is because of the historical context for the novel. Not only is the novel set in an ancient, traditional, long established university town the action takes place at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The author creates a beautifully detailed sense of university life in the era.The formalities and rituals; the arcane language; the eccentricities of the professors; and the relations between the townspeople and the university are some of the elements that are explored and described so well. And the author has taken the time to let the picture build up gradually so that
when the first murder occurs it comes as a complete shock.
Although Charles Murray is the pivotal character,there is a large supporting cast with whom he interacts as the novel evolves. Charles' brother and father, his professors and student friends are all well-developed along with their daughters, wives and sweethearts.
I particularly enjoyed the verbal skirmishesbetween some of the characters of which these examples give a wonderful flavour:
"The blackyirtly, ill-deedit, meschantly, gallow-breid"
"You contemptible gileynour".
The Kindle on-board dictionary has no explanation for some of these words but you easily get the sense. The use of this type of language contributes greatly to the sense of time and place that is created so brilliantly in this book.