The Low Road
"You need me as your front, Jamie. I think that's the word. Someone to lend credence to the reason you want to find Paul. If I go with you and I have a nice piece of jewelry, you won't seem dodgy." Her eyebrows rose as she gave him a faint smile. She seemed to be holding her breath.
"A woman hocking her jewelry won't have the whiff of the fishmonger, especially if she seems reluctant to part with an heirloom. We can even have a bit of dialogue about having to part with great aunt Agnes' favorite necklace. And while I've got his attention, you can have a shufti around his place to suss out what the police will need to pinch him unawares."
Jamie scratched his head, clearly astonished. "I've never heard you use these words before, Melanie. Dodgy. Shufti, Suss out. Fishmonger. Where'd you get them?"
"I listen to Mike. What about it, Jamie? I won't let you down. I was in the thespian club in school."
The Low Road is the 16th entry in the Michael McLaren Mystery series by author Jo A. Hiestand, and I found the plot intriguing, the characters interesting, and the Scottish Highlands settings and bits of history spectacular. With it being McLaren’s 16th adventure, there is a bit of backstory to the character; however, the author pulls out the relevant points so that I didn’t feel overwhelmed or behind in the overall story as a new reader.
In The Low Road, McLaren is off his home patch in Derbyshire, visiting extended family (uncle and grandfather). Until recently, he’d been estranged from his grandfather, but they’d reconnected. He and his girlfriend, Melanie Travers, are staying in the older man’s ancient and historic home, so Auchtubh is the home base for this investigation. Melanie is along for the trip to watch Michael and his folksong singing group, Woodstock Town, perform at the area’s annual Highland Games event. This is her first visit to Scotland and some of the loveliest and most atmospheric images of the setting are presented through her eyes. The author included a glossary of words, phrases, and place names with pronunciation that I found very helpful.
The murder mystery is a good one with an interesting hook: the victim’s uncle (of the same name) was murdered exactly a year previously at the games in the same field set aside for the sheaf toss competition. McLaren conducts an admirable and thorough investigation, starting from ground zero with literally nothing to go on. Although, McLaren has no connection to the local police, he investigates because of his close relationship with the victim whom he feels responsible for bringing back to the area where he meets his demise.
In addition to the excellent plot, another attractive element of the story is the inclusion of smatterings of Scottish and clan history. There are fascinating tidbits about the formation of the clan communities, tartans, crests, mottoes, and an explanation of the well-known folk song, Loch Lomond, with its reference to the low road. I was also surprised by the mention of one victim’s visit to the Crater of Diamonds State Park outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas, as being a possible link to a motive for his death.
With engaging, recurring characters and the driving force of the murder of a close friend of the main character, I recommend THE LOW ROAD to fans of the Michael McLaren Mystery series and mystery readers looking for an excellent new series to enjoy.