Death on a Longship
When she wangles the job of skippering a Viking longship for a film, Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived - even though it means returning home to the Shetland Islands, which she ran away from as a teenager. Then the ‘accidents’ begin - and when a dead woman turns up on the boat’s deck, Cass realises that she, her family and her past are under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae. Cass must call on all her local knowledge, the wisdom she didn’t realise she’d gained from sailing and her glamorous, French opera singer mother to clear them all of suspicion - and to catch the killer before Cass becomes the next victim.
Marsali grew up near Edinburgh, Scotland. Her summer family holidays were spent in a remote cottage in the West Highlands, the region where her detective Gavin Macrae lives. Like her sailing heroine, Cass, she has always been used to boats, and used her ‘gap year’ earnings to buy her first sailing dinghy, Lady Blue. She studied English at Dundee University, did a year of teacher training and took up her first post, teaching English and French to secondary children in Aith, Shetland. Gradually her role expanded to doing drama too, and both primary and secondary pupils have won prizes performing her plays at the local Drama Festival. Some of these plays were in Shetlandic, the local dialect.
Marsali teaches dinghy sailing at her local club, and is a keen single-handed sailor in her Offshore 8 m yacht, Karima S – the double of Cass’s Khalida.
A qualified STGA green badge tourist guide for Shetland, she now spends a good deal of her summer sharing her home with visitors from overseas. She is particularly interested in women’s history, and has published Women’s Suffrage in Shetland, two years’ worth of original research. She followed this with The Story of Busta House, the romantic tale of the house which is the setting for part of Death on a Longship.
Marsali also writes for the monthly magazine Shetland Life – a mixture of travel writing, interviews, investigative journalism and historical research.
She was my longship. She floated beside the boating club pontoon like a ghost from Shetland’s past, her red and ochre striped sail furled on her heavy yard half-way up the wooden mast, her painted shields mirrored on the early-morning calm water.
Okay, she belonged to Berg Productions Ltd., but I was her skipper. Stormfugl, Stormbird. She was seventy-five feet long, with a carved head snarling in a circle of teeth, a writhed tail, and a triangular log cabin on a half-deck in the stern. Gulls were wheeling around her, bickering among themselves, as if one of them had dropped a fish.
I started Khalida’s engine and put-putted across the bay towards the marina. I wasn’t keen on gulls dismembering fish all over my clean decks. I’d hosed them yesterday, after filming. The cameramen, lighting operators, make-up, costume, best boys, grips, and all the hundred people that seemed to be needed for even a simple shot had squelched the path from road to shore into dusty gravel. This had clung to the sheepskin boots of my Viking oarsmen, and the shore had added a generous helping of sand-laden algae. I didn’t intend to start the day re-scrubbing them. I’d fire the gulls’ fish overboard, and let them squabble about it on the water.
It was amazing, too, that Anders hadn’t heard them. Even someone who slept like the dead, as he did, must surely be woken by them perching on the cabin ridgepole to stretch their necks at each other. I’d have thought he’d have been out to clear them by now.
As we entered the marina I realised that there was a white bundle lying on Stormfugl’s deck under the circle of snatching gulls. I turned Khalida in a sharp curve and brought her up on the other side of the pontoon. Damn the way Norwegians went for cheap British drink. He’d obviously gone out and got blootered, staggered home and fallen, injured himself –
It wasn’t Anders.
I looked at the body lying on the half-deck, one hand stretched towards the prow and felt my newly won promotion to skipper slipping away. It was Maree Baker, one of the film lot, the stand-in for the star.
I was ashamed of myself for thinking first of me, but I couldn’t help Maree now. She lay sprawled on the larch planks like a marionette washed up by the tide, the manicured nails still gleaming like shells in the bloody mess the gulls had made of the exposed hands. There was mottled dirt on her cream silk trouser suit. The red-gold hair falling across her face was stirring just a little in the breeze, as if at any moment she’d shake it out of her eyes and leap up. I looked again at the back of her head, tilted up towards me, and saw the pool of blood spreading out from below her stand-in wig. The gulls had left footprints in it, and across the deck. I’m not squeamish about blood, but I felt sick then. I yelled at the three that had only gone as far as the pier, orange eyes watching me, then looked back at Maree. I didn’t want to touch her, but I had to. I was the ship’s Master[MT1] under God; captain, minister, doctor. I curved my hand around the chilling neck and laid two fingers over the vein. There was no flutter of pulse.
I withdrew my hand and reached into my back pocket for my mobile. 999. No, here in Shetland, 999 would probably get me some Inverness call centre three hundred miles away, where I’d have to spell out every name twice. I wanted Lerwick. I dived into the boating club for a phone book, and found the number. There were two rings, then a voice.
‘Northern Constabulary, Sergeant Peterson, can I help you?’
I took a deep breath and wished I was at sea, where the procedure was laid down. Mayday three times, this is yacht name three times. ‘I’d like to report what looks like a fatal accident,’ I said. ‘On board the longship Stormfugl, moored at Delting Boating Club.’
‘The film boat,’ she replied, briskly confident even at this hour of the morning. ‘Your name, madam?’
‘I’m Cass Lynch, the skipper of the boat.’
‘Remain with the body, please. We’ll get a doctor to you as soon as possible. Have you any idea of the casualty’s identity?’
ID was Ted’s problem. ‘She’s lying face down. I didn’t want to turn her over.’
‘We’ll bewith you in about half an hour. Until then, please ensure that nobody goes near the body. And don’t call anyone. We’ll do that.’
‘I’ll stay with the body,’ I said, but made no other promises.
I picked up a stone and scattered the gulls with one vicious throw.
I’d like to keep this capital, as it’s her title – older appointment letters actually say this.
'... a well-written, enjoyable story with a proper murder-mystery plot harkening back to the classic style. It’s good to see that there’s another book in the series in the pipeline and I’m already looking forward to it. Highly recommended.'