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by Pat McIntosh
Carroll & Graf, May 2006
288 pages
ISBN: 0786717416

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In 15th century Scotland Gil Cunningham and a friend, Augie Morison, are awaiting a shipment of a barrel loaded with books. When the barrel is opened they find a human head pickled in brine along with a royal purse with jewels in it.

When Augie is falsely accused and arrested for the murder, Gil takes on the task of discovering who the dead man is and who really murdered him and set the head in that particular barrel. Meanwhile, his handicapped sister Kate takes over Augie's floundering household, including his two ragamuffin young daughters.

After giving the jewels to the local nobleman for safekeeping, Gil travels the countryside trying to find out the identity of the dead man. Kate, busy getting Augie's house in order, comes in contact with men ready to do violence thinking that more valuables are hidden in Augie's home.

In THE MERCHANT'S MARK, the readers get to learn a lot about the day-to-day lives of the people in 15th century Scotland. This book is rich in details about the time period and takes you there completely. Unfortunately, the mystery section of this book isn't very interesting and moves slowly.

It takes most of the book to find the correct identity of the dead man. The derivation of the jewels is explained rather quickly and much is made of the history of the valuables, but there's little interest generated in the murder. The main bad guy is written as an out-and-out brute, someone who doesn't think twice about cutting the crutches out from under a lame woman's arm and pushing her to the ground and who hacks a man to death. You can't help but wonder why no one in that small country had heard of him before this time.

Read THE MERCHANT'S MARK for its power to bring the readers into the interesting world of 15th century Scotland, but not for its bland mystery.

Reviewed by Sharon Katz, July 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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