The Bookseller of Inverness by S.G. Maclean
This is a historical novel that grabbed my attention and didn’t let it go until the final page and conclusion. Set in Inverness of 1752, six years after the battle of Culloden and a severe blow to the Jacobite cause and the supporters of King James. I am no expert in this period of history, but I do know Inverness and indeed the bookshop that in part inspired this excellent novel. Everything I needed to know is in this book about the lingering resentment against the Hanoverian forces who not only savagely defeated men on the battlefield but also ruthlessly pursued those who had supported them by vicious and brutal means.
The book covers the story of some of those who continued to hope and work for the restoration of the “King Over the Water”, or who at least had suffered from the pursuit and execution of brave men and inflicted suffering on the women often left behind. It features the Grande Dames”, who in this novel are a small group of women who have lost loved ones in the fight, but who cherish hopes for the future. They are led by the redoubtable Mairi Farquharson, a remarkable woman who feels so real I was checking to see if she was an actual person. The main character, Iain MacGillivray, is a fascinating one, a relatively young man who not only remembers battle and the immediate aftermath, but also the appalling treatment of those who survived at the hands of the government forces. He is the bookseller, who goes to his shop and lives a life of memory, bitterness and limited pleasure. Those he knows, especially the bookbinder, Donald Mor and the mysterious Ishbel MacLeod are vivid and exciting characters with mysterious pasts and significant parts to play. It also includes a fascinating, somewhat reckless, character who is almost the stuff of legend. He is full of surprises and dominates many of the scenes in the book.
There is a special atmosphere at the heart of this novel, both in the city and as the narrative leaves Inverness and shows the special places connected with the ongoing struggle. Some places bring back memories for Iain, vivid recollections of a childhood friend, while others are almost sacred but pressed into use from sheer necessity. At least one place seems full of the ghosts of those who have been killed, and the memories are almost part of Iain’s personality.
This novel is made so alive by the fact that the author has been to all the places described, walked on the fields and explored the sites in which it is set. There is also so much research into the overlap with real events and people, but is so well blended in that it becomes a vivid part of the narrative. The city has obviously changed since 1752, but there is still the essence of the streets, the rooms and the buildings of the place that can be found in today’s Inverness. I truly enjoyed this novel, found it well paced and exciting to read, and I wish I could convey just how good it is to read. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book, and recommend it to those who love historical fiction with elements of mystery and thriller.