Friday, April 14, 2023

The Bookseller of Inverness by S.G. MacLean

Publication Date:  August 4, 2022

Length:  330 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

This book had everything I look for in a novel. Mystery, exciting history, well written characters and of course, the Highlands as a location. Add in that it takes place right after the last Jacobite uprising of 1746 and it was a must read for me. 

Six years after the Battle of Culloden, Iain MacGillivray is a bookseller in Inverness, trying to forget terrible memories from that time. He spends his days absorbed in his daily routine and is not interested in opening up to either friends or romantic entanglements. Brought up since the age of four by his Highlander grandmother, Mairi Farquharson, he has been schooled on tales of bravery and brutality in the Jacobite wars of 1715 onwards. His grandmother and her friends, called the Grandes Dames, are a tight knit group bound by loyalty to the Stuart cause and their grief at losing sons and husbands in the wars. They are bitter toward the Hanoverian soldiers which have overtaken northern Scotland and the town of Inverness where they live. Everyone is tense and afraid that at any moment they will be the victim of the soldiers' control and wrath. 

Underneath this daily current of fear, the Grandes Dames and other Jacobites plot and plan to be ready for another uprising. When a customer of Iain's is found murdered in his shop, stabbed with a knife bearing a white cockade, symbol of the the Jacobites, all are suspicious and anxious as to what it could mean. He seemed to have been searching for a book, but why? And which one? 

Iain's father Hector soon arrives from France where he is an undercover agent of the displaced King James and his son, Charles Edward Stuart. Hector is vague about his intentions and as he has been sporadically present in Iain's life, they are not close enough to share much with one another. When more murders occur, Iain and Hector begin to work together to unravel who the culprit is and why they seem to be seeking vengeance for the Stuart cause.

This mystery has a strong historical background with rich details that keep one interested beyond the criminal plot. Although I have read quite a bit about this time period, this author is actually from Scotland and has researched so much detailing the Jacobite wars that there were things I hadn't heard about before. One of the female characters, Ishbel, has a background story that includes her transportation and indentured servitude in the colonies and the details reveal a deeper knowledge than I normally find about the time period. Many atrocities committed by the soldiers are fleshed out with specific incidents and locations that were new information. She also does a good job of showing both sides and that some of the Hanoverian loyalists were not all vicious and were often conflicted about the behavior of their fellow soldiers. 

While the first two thirds of the book held my interest and made me want to eagerly turn the pages, my enthusiasm did wane somewhat as the mystery part took over. I love historical fiction and historical mysteries but sometimes the mystery part starts to feel strung out and repetitive. I was kept in suspense for most of the book but really felt like the reveal was not terribly exciting. She did throw in some extra surprises at the end and so it definitely rates four stars instead of three but overall I much more enjoyed the first half of the book when the background of Iain and his family was being established. 

I know this author has two other series set in Scotland during the 1600's. While I'm sure they are good I don't know if they would interest me as the setting for this book was the big draw. Those wanting a fast paced mystery with good historical details won't be disappointed in this story though.


  1. I enjoyed this too but, like you, I was more interested in the historical detail and the background of the characters than in the mystery. I have a copy of one of her earlier books, The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, which I'm hoping to read soon.

    1. Yes I might try her other series, always good to give an author another try!

  2. I was considering reading this book but now am not sure. Thanks for your review. It gives me some idea whether I want to read the book.

    1. If you love that time period and setting I think you'll enjoy the book. I just didn't think the mystery was the best part :)