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Keith Moray - The Inspector Torquil McKinnon Series set in West Uist





Browsing in a charity shop, I came across a trilogy, the first three books in Keith Moray's Inspector Torquil McKinnon series. I knew from the Highland name that it must surely be a Scottish crime series. A quick glance revealed the setting as the fictional island of West Uist further out west into the stormy Atlantic from South Uist in the Outer Isles / Hebrides. "This looks promising" I thought, "let's give it a go."

Keith Moray is one of several pseudonyms used by Dr Keith Souter, a now retired medical practitioner living in Wakefield, Yorkshire with his wife Rachel. Keith Souter is a most prolific published writer in various genres. As a qualified doctor he has written many medical books, and for over 38 years has penned a weekly medical column in his local newspaper, the Wakefield Express. He has also published childrens' books - his first venture into writing when still a medical student at Dundee University. The stories were published in the "Peoples Friend" - a sister publication of the D.C Thomas Group to the famous "Sunday Post" of Oor Wullie and the Broons. Keith has also written many short stories. He uses the name Keith Moray for his crime fiction - the West Uist set Inspector Torquil McKinnon series, and the Sandal Castle Medieval thrillers. He has even published a series of Westerns, this time under the name of Clay More.

Keith was Scottish born in St Andrews in Fife on the 28th June, and working backwards I think the year must have been 1952, or thereabouts. Next he moved to St Albans in Hertfordshire, England where he attended St Albans Grammar School for Boys from 1963 to 1970. Now back to Scotland for his University (Dundee) medical studies. He graduated in 1976. He did some of his medical training in the Scottish Highlands and writes of his love of the sense of community in little villages. He determined that if he ever wrote a crime series it would feature a Scottish detective working in a remote place. The Outer Hebrides are certainly remote - this is the setting for bagpipe playing Inspector Torquil McKinnon. North and South Uist are real places, but West Uist is a fictional setting. Keith wrote that he prefers low tech murder mysteries rather than forensic police procedural crime. Hence the setting of West Uist with its police force of three (and two special constables). Keith now lives in Wakefield with his wife Rachel, and they have three grown up children, and some grandchildren. He retired from practice as a doctor in England, but returned to help the NHS when CoronaVirus struck the nation.





The Gathering Murders     (2006)


I read this book in November, 2020.

This is book one in Keith Moray's Inspector Torquil series and also book one in a trilogy that I chanced upon in a charity shop. The setting is the remote fictional island of West Uist set further out into the Atlantic than South Uist. We are introduced to our hero, handsome, 28 year old Inspector Torquil McKinnon, only recently promoted to inspector some six months previously. As expected, it's a small local police force of three in total. Torquil's two assistants are the very capable Sergeant Morag Driscoll (a widow when 26, now in her early thirties with three young children), and the inexperienced, 23 year old, 6 foot four inches, hammer throwing and wrestler, Constable Ewan MacPhee. Torquil is known to all as Piper - he is a skilled bagpipe player, taught by his uncle, the local catholic priest, 64 year old Lachlan McKinnon (known to all as Padre). Torquil's parents died about twenty years ago when he was young, and he was brought up by Lachlan, living in the Manse. Here he caught his uncle's love of classic motorbikes, and piping. Lachlan has a trusty Royal Enfield Bullet 500 bike, and Padre also gets around on a classic bike, a 1954 Ariel Red Hunter. On the subject of classic travel, Calum Steele i.e. the one man of the local West Uist Chronicle, travels by ancient Lambretta scooter. Padre is now a golf fanatic, and has built a six hole golf course on links next to the Manse. As there are three tee approaches for each hole, an 18 hole round can be played without duplication. Torquil's parents are buried in the graveyard of Lachlan's St Ninian's church, but it is too painful for Torquil to visit. Two special constables help at busy times - they are local fishermen, the Drummond twins, Douglas and Wallace. Being a small place, everyone is related to or knows everyone else on West Uist, doors are seldom locked, etc.

To appreciate the story we have to know a local superstition - the tale of the "Selkie." A Selkie is a sea man who emerges from the deep, and changes to the form of a handsome young man as he wades ashore. There he captures the heart of some young maiden, gets her pregnant, then abandons her and returns to the sea. Worse, he returns years later to reclaim his offspring who all seem to drown at sea.

Our story opens with a prologue. Someone unknown has killed a married couple - the husband was pushed downstairs, the widow later poisoned. We only learn the identity of the couple and the killer when all is revealed / explained at the explosive climax. The murderer finds the couple's tickets to a Highland Gathering and Literary festival in West Uist, and goes there to look, but not at random, for more victims. Someone else goes to West Uist too - this is the returning, now famous "Queen of Scottish Crime Fiction," the writer Fiona Cullen. Fiona is very beautiful, and rides a modern Honda Firebird motorbike. Years ago she was Torquil's girl friend - they went to school together - but West Uist became too confining and Fiona just upped and left, abandoning Torquil. Now she wants a simpler way of life, and a quiet place to finish her latest book. She also wants to get together with Torquil again - which prospect delights Torquil.

We now learn more of West Uist, and it's inhabitants. The main village is Kyleshiffen, with it's harbour for the ferry from South Uist. Kyleshiffen has three pubs - Fiona is booked into the local "Bonnie Prince Charlie" pub where the landlady is Mollie McFadden. The local doctor is Dr Ralph McLellard who by chance had trained in forensic medicine in Glasgow, but now likes a simpler life as a local GP, and at Kyleshiffen cottage hospital . Calum Steele is the owner, chief reporter, and printer of the local paper. Bella Melville is the retired school teacher who taught everyone on the island, still orders them around, and gets things organised (including the Gathering and Literary Festival). Angus MacLeod is the local laird, rich with a private helicopter, and an important Scottish businessman with murky fingers in lots of pies. Angus lives in Dunshiffen Castle, and is host for the Games to house guests Roland Baxter, Scottish Minister for Culture, and a friend, Dr Wattena, a plastic surgeon who also does gender realignment. Dr Wattena made a mess of breast enlargement for Fiona, and she is suing him. Fiona seems to have quarrels with lots of people - eg Genevieve Cooper, her agent, and Allegra McCall, her publisher. Fiona's plots are based on her own investigative journalism skills, where she rewrites and reveals corruption in high places. In short, she has lots of enemies. Amongst the many visitors to West Uist are a mysterious, newly married young American couple - the male wants to be an amateur detective, and the girl wants to be a writer. We find them in the local antique bookshop and fishing tackle store owned by a famous fraud of a gaelic spreaking poet, Ranald Buchanan. He has a nice sideline in illicit whisky called Peatreek which he distills in his isolated cottage, and on his little mini island. Good looking Issie Fraser is another visitor and becomes Constable MacPhee's girlfriend, but Issie is not all she seems.

Torquil has gained many prizes for bagpipe playing, but longs to emulate his uncle and win the famous Silver Quaich. This has not been won for years - you have to win the three separate piping contests for strathspey, jig and pibroch all in the same year. The pibroch is the most difficult - you have to master three 15 minute pibrochs, and play each from memory without hesitation. In turn a pibroach has three phases - the salute, the lament, and the gathering. Torquil practises in St Ninians cave, a vast cavern with perfect acoustics.

As the Gathering gets under way, so too the crime story now unfolds. Apart from the prologue couple, the poet Ranald Buchanan is the first victim, murdered by a mysterious diver in a wet suit who emerges from the sea. Ranald recognises the diver, but is bashed on the head, and drowned. His death, when discovered, is first taken as an accident. The next death is a shocking one that I had not expected. Torquil's now rekindled girlfriend Fiona Cullen is killed, obviously murdered. I had thought Torquil and Fiona would be a team and go on to solve mysteries together. Torquil reports in to his boss on the mainland, Superintendent Kenneth Lumsden. He is laid up with gout on Benbecula and in a foul mood. Instead of offering the young inspector some help and advice, he barks out "you are an inspector now, get on with it". He later gives Torquil 24 hours to wrap up the case. Much later still he arrives on the island in a press helicopter, bawls out Torquil for not disclosing his personal relationship with Fiona, and suspends Torquil when Torquil calls him a prat. Torquil of course, solves the case, and is reinstated before a joint press conference so that the Superintendent can claim Torquil's credit.

It's a very complicated story with many more deaths and involves child paedophilia, a gender change, and the return of someone long thought dead, and now out for retribution. Everything is revealed at the end - none of it remotely believable. This seems to be another series where disbelief has be be suspended. Go with the flow.

All in all, I thought it was OK, and a fair introduction to West Uist and it's three coppers. In real life, a small island would not have all the big town facities that West Uist seems to enjoy, but this is not real life, but a "cosy crime" whimsy. I'll read on and see where the series goes.






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