#37 The Darker Arts by Oscar de Muriel

Madame Katerina, Detective ‘Nine Nails’ McGray’s most trusted clairvoyant, hosts a séance for three of Edinburgh’s wealthiest families.

The following morning everyone is found dead, with Madame Katerina being the only survivor. When questioned she alleges a tormented spirit killed the families for revenge.

McGray, even though he believes her, must find a rational explanation that holds up in court, else Katerina will be sentenced to death.

Inspector Ian Frey is summoned to help, which turns out to be difficult as he is still dealing with the loss of his uncle, and has developed a form of post-traumatic stress (not yet identified in the 19th century).

This seems an impossible puzzle. Either something truly supernatural has occurred – or a fiendishly clever plot is covering a killer’s tracks…

Paperback |432 pages

Publisher: Orion; Reprint Edition (20th February, 2020)

Read – Saturday 9th May

I got so stuck into Loch of the Dead and the climactic pages, that I couldn’t wait to delve into this, the 5th book of the series. I was filled with excited anticipation when I turned to the first page. Before the main story even started, there was an introduction to McGray’s past and the trial that took place after his sister’s acts. It was…mesmerising to read. I was driven to uncover the secrets and for the main story to begin.

I had no problem reading this, but it did take me longer than usual. I have been suffering greatly from migraines caused by hay fever and heat and over the course of reading this book, was on Day 4 of the migraine. So, while reading, I did have to take lots of breaks to quieten my mind, and to stop my eyes from blurring too much.

It is a wonderful feeling to find yourself with a group of characters that bring you such joy, warmth, love, and adventure. I consider myself blessed to have discovered this series of books because I have been rewarded with such a great cast of characters.

It was interesting to see the shift in Frey. He is not the same man that we’ve seen in the first 4 books. He is altered, different. His behaviour in this book was still true to him but it also offered a new side to the character and proved that he was open to growth and change. McGray always seems to lose himself in the case he’s working on. I thought I had enough experience with his character to be able to anticipate his actions, but I was caught a couple of times in this book with his level of understanding and sympathy.

One of the reasons I love the characters of McGray and Frey so much is because they’re constantly evolving and there is always another side of them to discover.

I enjoyed the interactions between Frey and his Father because I think there is a lot of history and treasured memories between the two that we don’t know about. It is obvious from the series that they’re relationship is hanging by tender hooks, but I was curious about their interactions here and how they might evolve into something more and how that might be presented in later books.

Madame Katerina has been present throughout the series and I always saw her as a character who brought relief to the situations and pushed McGray and Frey back onto the right path when they’d wandered off. It sounds silly to say I was ‘waiting for her feature’, but she’s such a featured secondary character that I was certain she’d be moved to centre stage at some point. It was an interesting experience to view her outside of McGray and Frey’s perspectives.

I find myself so at home with these books that I don’t have to try too hard with visualising. My image of McGray and Frey are so clear in my mind now that I can call them up with no hassle. As I read this book – and the ones before – my focus has been on the characters and their actions/adventures, so I always see the characters clearly. The backgrounds/settings/scenes are there but perhaps not as focused as the characters themselves.

I am honestly grateful I managed to finish this book over the weekend. Migraine are no fun at all. I’m unfortunately a regular sufferer of them and this one has been particularly gruelling. I tried to read this on Friday 8th May, but the migraine was so excruciatingly bad that I remained in bed all day, sleeping, angrily crying out, and trying all manner of remedies – none of which worked!

In the hot heat of Saturday, this has been a relief to read and a good distraction against the head pain. I have been gripped to the story and eagerly theorising as to what actually happened and who actually committed the crime. I’m saddened that I am now up to date with the series and will actually have to WAIT for the next book to come out! I am utterly hooked with this series and each book seems to bring more and more questions than answers and yet I can’t tear myself away from reading.

Sometimes, you find an author who just clicks for you. An author who just does something in their works that sings as you read. This is what reading Muriel’s works feels like to me. The books all follow a plan yes, but each plan is so carefully plotted and measured out that it feels unique and different from the last. I have had lasting and fond impressions of all the books in the series and this one was no exception. I really enjoyed this book and liked how Muriel shifted away from using a ‘supernatural thing’ and onto an established character. Of course, there are still elements of the supernatural in this book, but I felt they were subdued as I was given a look into another side of things.

The only thing that irritates me is that the first four books are all black with coloured writing. This book… is turquoise…and so won’t fit well with the other books. But, hey ho, that might just be my OCD talking!!!

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