Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Mortsafe by Lillian Stewart Carl

Lillian Stewart Carl calls her latest book, The Mortsafe, "A Short Jean Fairbairn/Alasdair Cameron Mystery." Yes, it's short at 184 pages, but it's dense, filled with Scottish history, ghosts, relationships and people that a new reader needs to struggle to understand. Saying all that, Jean Fairbairn and Alasdair Cameron are a remarkable team, and the mystery is fascinating. It's worth a little struggle for a mystery that combines all those elements.

Jean Fairbairn is an American, a historian now working in Edinburgh, Scotland as a journalist for Great Scot. She recently married Alasdair Cameron, who retired from his position as Detective Chief Inspector for the Northern Constabulary. He's now with Protect and Survive, a company that specializes in security for historic properties, which is why he is called in when the wall in a pub collapsed into a an underground vault beneath South Bridge in Edinburgh. It was what was found in the vault that caught Jean and Alasdair's attention, two bodies, one fairly recent, and one much older. How did the bodies get into a mortsafe, an iron cage locked over graves to thwart body snatchers? And, who were those bodies?

It isn't long before the pair are caught up in the most recent case after learning the body was that of a college student who disappeared fifteen years earlier. And, there are a number of other people interested in that story as well. There's the host of an American TV show who specializes in vampires and spirits who hopes to capitalize on murder and ghosts who might walk. What about the owner of Lady Niddy's Drawing Room, a high-class restaurant adjoining the pub? Both properties are owned by the same person. And, he seems to have an odd assortment of employees, including a mysterious businesswoman and a man who is a little too fond of his alcohol.

Jean and Alasdair team up with the police investigating the cold case, particularly after a constable guarding the property is knocked out. Their search leads them back to a time when musicians and students partied in the vaults, to a time when a young woman could easily disappear. And, it leads them into the history of Edinburgh, a story of bodies stolen, of rebellious religious sects, of hangings and violent death. Their search leads both of them into danger, and it leads them directly back to Lady Niddy's Drawing Room and a party where the police and the suspects all gather.

As Jean says, "It's a locked room mystery." How did the two bodies get into the vault? It's a cold case, a ghost story, and a history lesson. Murder, the paranormal, and history all seem natural in Edinburgh, a city with an intriguing, sometimes horrifying, past. And, that history and setting are essential to this story.

Carl has created fascinating characters in Jean and Alasdair, two people whose careers are grounded in reality, while they themselves can actually see and experience feelings surrounding ghosts. And, they are two adults who found each other rather late in life. They are attracted to each other physically. They understand each other, and are united in their abilities to see ghosts. But, they are also attracted to each other's intellect. Jean thinks of Alasdair as having an unthreatening face with unremarkable features, but "It was the mind behind it that would leap out of hiding with blinding brightness and fearsome will." And, they work together so well that she thinks, they used to be a complete brain by themselves, "But neither of them had ever been a complete heart, not alone."

The Mortsafe is a journey into the mystery and history of Edinburgh. It's a ghost story, a murder mystery, with a blend of romance and the past. It may be a "short" mystery, but it's complex and captivating, a story worth the time and the journey.

Lillian Stewart Carl's website is

The Mortsafe by Lillian Stewart Carl. CreateSpace. 2011. 9781468134636 (paperback), 184p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Karen C said...

Sounds like it has it all and will be a good read - adding to the list!

Karen C said...

I just bought the e-book; very reasonably priced!

Beth Hoffman said...

This has many components of a terrific read. Thanks, Lesa!

Lillian Stewart Carl said...

Thank you Lesa! I appreciate the time and energy that you put into the review---not to mention the recommendation.

We'll see where Jean and Alasdair strike next.... :-)

Marymyeg said...

I just bought the e-book; very reasonably priced!