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Charles E. McGarry – The Shadow of the Black Earl

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A time-shifting gothic mystery that combines Victorian sensibility with modern policing.

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At the funeral of a friend, during the eulogies, Leo drifts into a vision of foreboding, which he suspects is somehow to involve him in a new case. He accepts an invitation to spend the summer at the stately home of his friend in southern Scotland and so begins our second entry into the world of Charles E. McGarry’s private detective.

McGarry draws us into Leo Moran’s world by creating a character at odds with time. It is a Gothic world uneasily at variance with, sometimes parallel to, the present. His form of speech, dress, and sensibilities are those of a Victorian who finds the transition to Edwardian difficult to resolve. The present is there in the form of computers and internet and has its uses, but really there is nothing like the past. This feature of McGarry’s styled protagonist enhances the mystery, combining the element of Gothic horror with modern day police procedure.

Leo Moran occupies the in-between mystical ground of a private detective with second sight. His visions reveal piecemeal information alongside the investigation of other characters staying at the Hall as well as invited neighbouring guests at dinners and games. There is a love interest for Leo and there are plenty of secret entwined relationships to add to a list of suspects. There is an ancient story in his friend’s history of the deeds of a Black Earl, the disappearance of a local girl which coincides with another disappearance of a girl on the same date some years previously, and the lurking of dark cults both past and present. Into this maze in a blaze of contradictions blunders a complex, erudite, troubled hero in a deerstalker.

McGarry’s style and use of language can be challenging if expecting a contemporary approach. But if you like a combination of new and old, and enjoy the challenge of unravelling a mystery, then this is for you.