Strangers at the Gate by Catriona McPherson
Looking back it's tempting to say I knew from the start, as soon as Paddy said the word for the first time. I can nearly convince myself I shivered at the sound of it, Simmerton.
But I'd be lying. Truth is, there was a while back then when everything seemed fine. Or even better than fine. Everything seemed golden. If there were worries they were the usual kind that everyone has and then remembers, laughing. If I had doubts, it was only because I was prone to be doubtful. And the odd little frights and freak-outs? They were just stories to tell to tell the grandchildren, come the day.
Strangers at the Gate is quite the Gothic-style mystery. You can probably tell that from the cover - shades of Manderley and Rebecca indeed. Set in a small community in Scotland where the sun only tops the hills at certain times of the year, the whole book feels cold and foggy and spooky. Heavy on the spooky. Paddy and Finnie have moved away from the city to Simmerton and feel quite lucky to both have such good jobs. They have a small cottage to live in and one of the first things they do is go to dinner with Paddy's boss and his wife at their home. And then the twists begin, the wild and crazy events, the quite scary things that made this reader determined to solve the puzzle. In case you wondered, I had lots of ideas - some were right and some definitely were not.
I listened to this book on audio and it was very ably narrated by Lucy Paterson - just a wonderful Scottish accent. I've met the author, Catriona McPherson at more than one mystery conference and she is witty, funny, really a great toastmaster or panelist - with a wonderful Scottish accent to boot. She writes various kinds of mysteries - historicals, cozies and her darker standalones. If you ever get to a chance to attend one of her events, go. She's great.
Finnie Doyle and Paddy Lamb are leaving city life in Edinburgh behind them and moving to the little town of Simmerton. Paddy's been made partner at the law firm in town, and Finnie has snagged a job as a church deacon. Their rented cottage is quaint; their new colleagues are charming, and they can't believe their luck.
But only days after moving into the gate house, Finnie begins to have doubts. She keeps hearing strange sounds, and the thicket of trees make her feel claustrophobic rather than safe. When they witness the bloody aftermath of a brutal murder, it changes everything. They've each been keeping secrets about their pasts. And they both know their precious new start won't survive a scandal. Together, for the best of reasons, they make the worst decision of their lives.
And that's only the beginning. The deep, deep valley where Simmerton sits is unlike anywhere Finnie and Paddy have been before. They are not the only ones hiding in its shadow and very soon they've lost control of the game they decided to play...