By Karen Campbell
Scottish author Karen Campbell has transformed what might have been a typical genre thriller into something truly special, deserving of a wider readership than it probably will receive in the U.S. Her phrasing is such that each time you open it, you discover yourself transported to the Scottish Highlands northwest of Glasgow, deep into the lives of Justine Strang, the Anderson family, and the variously interesting locals of her Kilmacarra (around Kilmartin, which you might look up for visual reference, as geography plays a critical role in the novel).
Justine flees her brutal, abusive pimp in Glasgow, stealing hundreds of pounds for good measure in the process. She plans to run as far north as possible, hoping to drop off the grid. She, however, detours into Kilmacarra, where she comes upon Michael Anderson seemingly injured in the graveyard of the local church. Injured he is; however, it appears, at first, his injury is more psychological than physical. After all, Michael, an ordained minister who works at it part–time while his new main occupation is full-time elected councillor, has a ghost who appears to him regularly, taunting him mercilessly, the crux and meaning which we only learn in its fulness at the end.
In addition to Michael’s disturbed mental state, Justine soon learns that his marriage totters on rocky ground. All this, after she witnesses a boy hit by a caravan towing a little red car, something she keeps to herself for days out of fear reporting it will attract the attention of Charlie Boy, her pimp, who, indeed, searches for her furiously, with the intent of dealing her a most painful death. To further complicate matters, Michael takes her on as a live-in, to relieve his wife Hannah, who is a writer, whereupon Justine discovers the boy injured is Michael’s and Hannah’s older son, Euan.
None of this would mean too much to Justine, except that she develops an attachment for the younger son, Ross, around four. Ross takes a liking to her, as well. Through this relationship, and the fact that Michael can only find solace from his ghostly troubles in the presence of Justine, her bonds to the family and the town of Kilmacarra grow to the point of preventing her running, even when the danger she fears materializes.
Into this mix of familial troubles and bonding, Campbell blends in a fascinating history of the region, told in relation to a campaign to prevent a power company from erecting a windmill farm that spurs an archeological dig around the Druid-like stones spotting all over the area.
Campbell deftly bridges the genre barrier in a novel that should appeal to a broad array of readers. A first-rate job on her part. w/c