Naming the Bones, by Louise Welsh, is set against a gray and depressing backdrop—a dim back room in a library, various bars in the seamier side of town, the long twilights of late summer in Glasgow, Scotland. The tone of the story mirrors the climate. A scholar, Murray Watson, is researching—or trying to research—the life of a poet who died thirty years earlier. The one "slim volume" published by the late poet, Archie Lunan, was the inspiration that sent Murray down the path to become a Doctor of English Literature. His research is bearing little fruit as the story opens, his relationship with his photographer brother is strained, and the affair he is having with a colleague—who happens to be the wife of his department head—ends rather badly.
Then he meets a member of the library staff who was personally acquainted with the poet when they were both students at the university, and he learns a few tantalizing and mysterious details. He receives a phone call in response to an ad he placed in the local papers, fishing for information. The caller is the widow of a social scientist who had been researching the lives of artists who committed suicide. Her husband died in a tragic accident on the same island, Lismore, where Archie had been born and where he also died. The man had gone there to interview Christie Graves, the girlfriend of the late poet, who had turned down Murray's request for an interview. The widow had been able to tell Murray very little, and her husband's notes about Archie had been in the car he was driving when he had his fatal accident. She had not got them back.
Much of the build-up of the story suggests there may have been foul play involved in Archie's death. Ultimately, Murray must go to Lismore himself, to see where it all happened, find out if he can learn something of Archie's childhood there at least, and possibly engineer a "chance" encounter with Christie in the hopes she will relent and grant him the interview she had previously refused. Everything on the island seems to be working against Murray, though, the weather, the last-minute timing of his visit, his own short-sightedness. He seems destined to fall way short of his goal right up until the last possible moment. The story's finish is at the same time inevitable and completely unexpected.
As a mystery, this is a first-rate story, with all the parts fitting together and all the characters acting true to the way Welsh has painted them. I will certainly look for other titles by Louise Welsh, and/or printed by the Felony & Mayhem Press.
Author of four books, Louise Welsh is a writer living and working in Glasgow, Scotland. She has also produced many short stories and articles and written for radio and the stage, including a libretto for opera. Louise is currently writer in residence for The University of Glasgow and Glasgow School of Art. Visit her website.
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