... friend and author, Marsali Taylor, and her central character, Cass Lynch...
‘Cass Lynch,’ my editor said. ‘The Girl at the Heart of the Longship Case.’ He tended to think in cliches. ‘Innocent Victim or Holllywood Star’s Love Triangle?’
‘Do my best,’ I said.
Once I got to Shetland, it looked like my best wasn’t going to be good enough. ‘Cass Lynch?’ my contact said. ‘Pulling teeth. Look, she did two interviews. The first one was after the body was found, with a policeman on each side. The second one was a Guardian exclusive, with her mother – do you know about her mother?’
I’d done my homework. ‘Oil man father, Irish, French opera singer mother. Eugenie Delafauve. Specialist in music from the court of the Sun King.’
‘And a turn on her own. Dramatic plus. Anyway, she presented Cass as the well-brought up young lady with her family around her. The only time anyone’s ever seen her in a dress. No awkward questions. Since then, the barbed wire’s gone up.’ He looked thoughtful. One hand rose slowly in a hang-on gesture. ‘Unless we approach her by sea …’
Which was how I came to find myself on board a sailing boat belonging to one of his mates, Barry, dodging ropes as the head-height piece of metal at the bottom of the sail crashed overhead. Even in late July it was freezing, and I was very glad when, three hours later, our skipper nodded at the houses ahead of us and said, ‘Brae.’
I kept out of the way as he scrambled about hauling flapping sails down, and we chugged into the marina. A boy in a navy jersey came out of one of the boats to indicate where we should park, and followed us over to stand, hand out, ready to take our ropes.
|Out on the water|
It was then I realised that I was looking straight at Cass Lynch herself. I hadn’t expected her to be so small; five foot two, at a guess, and wearing sandshoes. The jumper was a navy seaman’s gansey, too big for her, and worn above working jeans. She had a black plait hanging down her back, with the occasional curl breaking free around her ears. For all her size, she was strong, pulling our thirty footer in on its line as if it was a rowboat, then she moved quickly around the dock, fastening one rope, going back to alter another, until she finally exchanged glances with Barry, and they nodded at each other, one seaman to another. ‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘Give us ten minutes to tidy up, then come aboard for a cup of tea.’
She hesitated over that one. I had a good look at her face now, tilted up towards us. The long, straight scar on her right cheek was lit by the sun, a snail-trail of white skin in her tanned face. I’d read up on her lover’s death in the middle of the Atlantic; it was another thing I wanted to ask her about. Apart from that, she had a stubborn chin, high cheekbones, dark lashes and eyes as blue as cornflowers. The scar stopped her from being pretty, but she had a face you wouldn’t forget.
‘You can tell us about the local area,’ I said quickly, seeing the refusal trembling on her lips. It was a shameless play on what she’d see as her duty to her fellow sailors, and it worked.
She nodded. ‘Ten minutes, then.’
We had tea in mugs, out in the cockpit. She was accompanied by a bearded Thor look-alike, introduced as Anders, with no further explanation. He gave me a charming smile and asked if I objected to rats. ‘Yes,’ I said firmly, and was startled to see him fish a large black and white beast out of his shirt and take it back to their own boat.
‘So,’ I said, once the livestock had been disposed of, and Barry and Anders had gone below to talk about the engine in a boys-together sort of way, ‘what’s around here?’ I tried not to look disparagingly round at the cluster of houses, though I had to concede that the green hills, the burns thick with formica-yellow marsh marigolds, the seaweed-fringed shoreline, the sparkling sea, was all scenic enough.
Her blue eyes were surprisingly shrewd, as if she was considering where she’d put me on board a ship. ‘Depends what you want. There’s a lot of Britain’s most northerly. Indian take-away, chip shop, hairdresser, Co-op, fire station, astro-turf, high school. The blue roof is the leisure centre, with a swimming pool, and there are showers in the clubhouse here.’
‘Historic stuff? Isn’t there a haunted house?’ It had been where the film crew had stayed, in the Longship case.
Her chin jerked off to the left. ‘Busta,’ she conceded. ‘Oldest still-inhabited house in Shetland. It’s a hotel now.’
I was going to have to use shock tactics. I put on my best naïve expression and said, ‘Wasn’t that where all the film stars stayed, when there was the murder here?’
Her face went mutinous. She shrugged.
‘Were you here then?’
A reluctant nod.
‘Involved with the filming? Didn’t they moor the longship here?’
Her chin tilted again. ‘At the pier there.’
‘Were you on board?’
|Field of buttercups, Shetland|
I could see she didn’t want to lie about it. Her head went up, and her blue eyes looked directly at mine. Suddenly she turned from a shabby near-boy to the captain of the ship, her voice authoritative. ‘We don’t talk about it here.’ Her glance flicked down to the engine-room; she drained her tea, and rose. ‘If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back. Have a good stay here in Brae.’
I watched her unobtrusively for the rest of the evening; moving about below in her Khalida, in the gold of a lit oil lamp, coming up on deck to brush her teeth, with her hair a loose cloud about her shoulders. I got a few good pictures, but there was no conversational opening for me to rush in. I’d get her in the morning, two women in the showers together.
I was too late. By half past eight the next morning, as I was heading for the clubhouse, make-up bag and towel in one hand, she was already dressed in a faded black all-in-one sailing suit, and starting to haul grey plastic dinghies about on the boating club slip. I got an over-the-shoulder hello. When I came out, she was surrounded by children in blue plastic overalls, drawing diagrams on a whiteboard. She could talk to them all right: ‘Okay, so let’s look at the sea first. How windy is it?’
Oh, well. It wasn’t the first time I’d made up an interview from so little material. I just had to decide the angle. Cass Lynch was understandably tight-lipped about the events of the Longship Case … still finds it hard to talk about … ‘It was a difficult time,’ she admitted …
I glanced across at the slip and heard her voice again. ‘What’s the tide doing? Why does it matter?’ There was a mutter of voices, and then a scrum of children and a welter of flapping neon sails. She moved among them, calm and competent, then clambered into a rubber boat and herded them out of the marina, like a swan rounding up unruly cygnets. I shot a couple of photos; she turned to see where the flash had come from. The sullen look was gone; now she was smiling. She spun the rescue boat round in a roar of engine, setting the dinghies rocking in the wash. The children shrieked with delight, and she laughed, and waved to me.
My car was bigger than the boat she lived in, and the cost of her whole wardrobe wouldn’t have bought me one pair of shoes, yet at that moment I suddenly envied her. I deleted what I’d done, and began again.Cass Lynch, the girl in the Longship Case, has moved on …
... about the author... Marsali Taylor’s writing career began with plays for her school pupils to perform in the local Festival. Her first Shetland-set crime novel starring quick-witted, practical sailor Cass Lynch and Inverness DI Gavin Macrae was published in 2013, and there are now five in the series, with a sixth due this November. Reviewers have praised their clever plotting, lively characters and vividly-evoked setting. Marsali’s interest in history is shown in her self-published Women’s Suffrage in Shetland, and Norse-set crime novella, Footsteps in the Dew. She helped organise the 2015 Shetland Noir festival, and is a ‘regular’ at Bloody Scotland and Iceland Noir. She’s a columnist and reviewer for the e-zine Mystery People.
... about the book... 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.
You can follow Marsali on Amazon her website and on Facebook
You can follow Marsali on Amazon her website and on Facebook