Review: A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray

A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray is the second book in the Emmeline Truelove historical mystery series.

A Strange Scottish Shore is a multi-layered story that rewards a perceptive, patient reader. The first of the Emmeline Truelove series, A Most Extraordinary Pursuit, introduced readers to the three main characters: Maximilian Haywood, the heir to the Duke of Olympia; Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove, the recently departed Duke of Olympia’s personal secretary; and the Marquess of Silverton, a “watchful and jovial” aristocrat with an eye for Miss Truelove. 

What makes A Strange Scottish Shore a mystery that embraces the fluidity of time? One element is the excerpt at the beginning of each chapter from A. M. Haywood’s re-telling of the selkie legend The Book of Time, published in 1921. A. M. Haywood, aka the Duke of Olympia. And yet the story opens with Miss Truelove at King’s Cross Station, London, in August of 1906. She is on her way to join the Duke at Thurso Castle in the wilds of Scotland. 

Another feature is Emmeline’s continuing conversation with two ghosts, or visions. The first is Queen Victoria, who joins Emmeline in her first-class compartment to excoriate her for her unconventional choice of profession. She is the director of The Haywood Institute for the Study of Time, a markedly unusual post for a woman at the turn of the century. Why, the Queen wonders, is Emmeline traveling to Scotland at all? Why can’t Mr. Miller, the duke’s new private secretary, fulfill the duke’s “urgent request?” 

“Because—as the duke’s telegram informed me—he has discovered another one of his mysterious objects, and Mr. Miller, for all his admirable qualities, is not especially qualified to assist in that kind of investigation.”

“I don’t see why not. I don’t see why he should require a woman to perform this task, when she lacks the strength and judgment of a man.”

“A quaint sentiment, from a woman who once reigned over half the globe.”

Her Majesty disappears at the appearance of the Marquess of Silverton “like the extinguishing of a light.” Adventure ensues when the pair is interrupted by a mysterious intruder. Silverton gives chase, the two men tussle, but Silverton is not able to restrain him. All of the excitement and delays make the pair “irretrievably late,” and they miss their train connection from Edinburgh to Thurso Castle.

Emmeline’s second spectral companion (dead for six years) makes a visit to her in her “elegant room in the North British Station Hotel, in the splendid shadow of Castle Rock”:

“Good evening,” said my father, folding the book over his thumb. “How do you like Scotland so far?”

“I have scarcely seen it. At least the drizzle has let up.”

“Has Lord Silverton been behaving himself?”

“Does he ever?” I levered myself from the door and walked to the desk in the corner, on which I placed the leather portfolio I carried under my arm. “We meet for dinner in an hour.”

“Do you? I’m glad to hear it. I like the fellow.”

Truelove and the Marquess arrive at the castle the next day. Duke of Olympia is anxious to meet privately with Miss Truelove because he wants her to examine an object he has found. An unnerving aspect of Truelove’s life is that she’s neither fish nor fowl—not a guest of the duke and not a conventional member of his staff. To be a private secretary, like she was for his father, was unusual enough, but for a female to lead a scientific institute is unheard of. Emmeline tries to stay oblivious to the whispers, but it’s difficult.

Who the devil was that? asked one, and Olympia’s secretary, I believe, said another, and yet another one began, No, no, haven’t you heard, she’s his

By then I was out of earshot, my skin aflame, turning down a succession of corridors without any consciousness of where I was going, only that I had to get as far away as possible from those voices, from those eyes that had stared at me with such unnatural, avaricious curiosity.

Emmeline calms herself by looking out at the sea, “now turned gray and pink in the gathering sunset,” until the duke calls her name. They go to his Chinese library where they examine a mysterious life-sized, rubberized object.

I laid it carefully down on the table and straightened it out into the shape of a human being, minus head and hands and feet, almost perfectly formed, about the size of a tall adult female. The smell was strong, almost overpowering, a queer mixture of seawater and rot and rubber.

A twentieth-century wetsuit in Edwardian Scotland? It’s yet another example of Juliana Gray’s deft ability to insert modern or medieval objects into the plot. It’s impossible to stop speculating about how and why. 

No stranger to the study of anachronisms in archeological digs, Haywood is nevertheless puzzled by the artifact: a suit of clothing, which, according to family legend, once belonged to a selkie who rose from the sea in ancient times and married the castle’s first laird.

More surprises—the intruder of the train, Hunter, appears at the castle and holds the Duke and Truelove at gunpoint. He rattles off an improbable story that stuns the duke.

“And how did you come to know that story?” Max asked.”

“Because you wrote a book about it duke-man. That story and others like it.”

“I haven’t written any books. Not about what happened on Naxos, anyway. I haven’t told a soul.”

Would it come as a surprise that the book is called The Book of Time? Hunter snarls, “You wrote it in 1921, my man. Nineteen hundred and twenty-one.” Is Hunter a villain who has traveled back in time—to what purpose? Modern-day artifacts, stories from ancient times, danger and mystery—Juliana Gray’s A Strange Scottish Shore weaves all these elements into a compelling tale.


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Janet Webb aka @JanetETennessee has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry … I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.

Read all of Janet Webb's articles for Criminal Element!


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