Sandra Ireland’s third novel, The Unmaking of Ellie Rook cements her place as the queen of Scottish folklore-inspired domestic noir. Loosely based around the legend of Finella, a noblewoman who lured a Scottish king to his death in revenge for the murder of her son, The Unmaking of Ellie Rook is a contemporary work exploring family secrets, abusive relationships and love.
Ellie Rook is working abroad when she receives a phone call from Scotland that forces her home. Her mother has gone missing near a treacherous waterfall.
As head of the family and owner of a scrapyard, Lawler Rook is obsessed with routine. Whilst Ellie lived as she pleased when travelling, on her return she is expected to attend to her father’s demands, which at times prove frustrating. However, the family is close-knit with neighbours and acquaintances regarded as outsiders. The threat of violence circles like a gull on the wing. Memories surface as Ellie questions events from her childhood, making her uncertain whom to trust.
The toxic atmosphere of the scrapyard setting, the dirt and danger, builds fear and dread, drawing the reader deeper into the enclosed world Lawler has created.
Whilst the focus on abusive relationships is realistic it is also sensitively handled, with scenes thoughtfully balanced rather than shocking for the sake of effect. A further strength of Ireland’s writing is her ability to create a vivid sense of the ancient forest and the east coast beach with its wild, ragged sea.
She employs a deceptively simple writing style that is multi-layered, twisting smoothly. Snappy chapters make it easy to race through a chunk in one sitting. Even the secondary characters, such as Ellie’s brother, River, and Piotr, her love interest, crackle with energy. Ireland’s writing of emotion is confident and assured.
And so it should be, as her debut novel, Beneath The Skin was nominated for a Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award in 2017. As well as writing novels and poetry, Ireland tutors at Dundee University and is part of the Chasing Time author team offering writing workshops and retreats at Rosely Country House Hotel, a Gothic mansion resting in the Angus countryside.
Meanwhile, readers must hope that Ireland’s interest in Scottish folklore continues, inspiring more in the vein of The Unmaking Of Ellie Rook.