Review: Beneath the Abbey Wall by A. D. Scott

When newspaper editor McAllister answered the door in the middle of the night, he had no idea what lay ahead of him. The news – that the business manager of the Highland Gazette had died – was only the beginning of a harrowing journey to answer two questions: who murdered Mrs. Smart – and who was she, anyway?

A. D. Scott’s third novel, Beneath the Abbey Wall, takes readers on a journey to the Highlands of Scotland, with moors and glens that make it quite a beautiful journey indeed.  Beneath the Abbey Wall is fast-paced and engaging, switching viewpoints between members of the newspaper staff to show many sides of the narrative.  The novel primarily follows editor McAllister and reporters Joanne and Rob as they attempt to unravel the mysteries surrounding the life and death of the business manager, Mrs. Joyce MacKenzie Smart.

Most fascinating about Beneath the Abbey Wall is the way Scott manages to entwine a murder mystery with social issues.  The concept of social class is difficult for some Americans to understand, as our nation was built on the idea of breaking class roles, but Scott deals with several relationships between people who stretch across social classes, whether those relationships are romantic or simply friendly.  Scott also discusses social problems such as domestic violence, suicidal tendency, postpartum depression, and the unlawful displacement of children by welfare agencies by using elements of each issue in her plot.

While Scott is able to weave an engaging tale of murder and intrigue, some issues arise regarding the limits of the novel: its constantly-switching perspective is at times annoying, and some of the characters make such poor decisions that it becomes difficult to like or respect them.  Scott’s foreshadowing is interesting and leads readers to suspect something different is afoot, but its ending is unsatisfying and even disquieting to some extent.

Beneath the Abbey Wall is an interesting historic mystery set in 1950s small-town Scotland, an exotic setting unlike any other, and its depiction of Scottish issues – most notably the Traveling people, a specific Scottish clan, and domestic abuse – makes for an interesting read.  Its engaging and interesting plot makes Beneath the Abbey Wall worth a look, despite the unsatisfying solution to the mystery of the novel itself.

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