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A girl’s body is found on a remote beach in the Scottish West Highlands showing evidence of having suffered a gruesome threefold death.

Constable Angus "Dubh" McNeil has been cursed since childhood with "dà-shealladh" which is Gaelic for second sight. The dubious gift first appeared when he saw his mother murdered - before it happened. Afterwards, he was condemned to experience terrifying visions of death but unable to save anyone. His father dismissed his visions as psychological illness, but he found an ally in family friend and renowned folklorist Dr. Gilleasbuig "Gills" MaccMurdo. Together they tried to harness his "gift" but with every failure Angus fell deeper into despair. Eventually he could take it no longer - he began to take pills to stifle his visions and drifted away from his friend and mentor Gills.

But now the pills have stopped working. Angus is in denial that he "saw" the girl’s death. And this is not just any girl. She’s Faye Chichester, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the laird, American billionaire James P Chichester. Chichester’s plan to reintroduce wolves on his Kilcreggan estate has split the community, with Angus’s musician wife, Ashleigh, and loathsome Free Kirk minister, Reverend MacVannin, two of the most vocal critics of the wolf reserve.

As these tensions simmer in the background and the world’s media descends on the small Highland community, Angus is drafted on to the Major Investigation Team hunting the killer. To make matters worse, one of the lead detectives turns out to be Angus’s ex-girlfriend from police training college, DI Nadia Sharif.

As the police investigation swings into action, various portents and prophecies convince Gills that Faye’s murder has a supernatural dimension. Not only that, but he is certain there will be two more ritual sacrifices. He begins his own, less conventional, inquiry and tries to persuade Angus that something otherwordly is going on. Angus initially resists any paranormal interpretation, but as a list of suspects is established and the reader is pulled between the MITs investigation and Gills supernatural probe, they are left asking is the killer a "who" or a "what".

The Unforgiven Dead leverages the brooding West Highland landscape as a vast diorama for a supernatural thriller that pushes the boundaries of the Tartan Noir genre.

The book was one of five shortlisted for literary agency AM Heath’s Deviant Minds Crime and Thriller competition 2018.


How the book was born...

I grew up in the Highland town of Fort William, nestled at the foot of Ben Nevis, a mountain that is home—legend has it—to the Cailleach, an ancient goddess who haunts the pages of my novel. This is an area steeped in myth and legend, an otherworld I encountered only faintly growing up in stories told by older folk and in the books of Highland fairy tales my parents owned.

At 18 I left Fort William for university in Glasgow, where I studied Scottish literature and history: the literature a varied menu — everything from the Scottish Makars, through Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, to James Kelman and Irvine Welsh. While I enjoyed discovering this rich canon, when reading for pleasure I would often find myself at the crime section in the Mitchell Library, or browsing the shelves of Voltaire and Rousseau in Glasgow’s west end.

It was around this time that a wee voice in my head first started dropping hints that I should try my hand at crime writing. A crippling sense of self doubt almost silenced that voice, but that desire to write no doubt informed my decision to pursue a career in journalism.

A decade passed. Yet as I rose through the ranks, from local newspapers to a sub-editor on The Herald, I was mainly busy not writing. When I did eventually put pen to paper, I was in my early thirties. I wrote a Glasgow-set serial killer novel. Then another, although both remain unpublished.

The idea for The Unforgiven Dead came about almost ten years ago. By then, I’d left Scotland for Northern Ireland with my family and was working at The Belfast Telegraph. On a trip home to visit my parents, I rediscovered those Highland folktales from my childhood, ones barely touched upon in my studies, sitting on the same shelves. As I read about shapeshifters, giants, and seers, I was struck—angered even—that so many of these tales only survived thanks to a handful of Victorian folklorists who recorded them. I felt a keen sense of loss: no doubt, what remains is but a fraction of what there once was. Just as Christanity swept away the old gods, three-hundred years of British government attempts to tame the “wild Highlands” had decimated Gaelic language and culture.

By dusk that evening, my goal was clear: to write a Highland-set crime novel that leveraged the area’s evocative folklore and myth as part of a grounded supernatural detective story that pushed the boundaries of the genre. The title is a nod to the Sluagh, a sinister fairy host of Highland folklore, also known as The Unforgiven Dead. They were said to be sinners too evil for Hell, condemned to haunt the night sky for eternity, feeding on the souls of dying humans or newborn babes.

My first draft of the novel came across the desk of Inkshares’ CEO, Adam Gomolin, in late 2018. Adam has worked tirelessly with me on the project ever since — the key, we felt, was to keep the supernatural rich but grounded, and to make the police inquiry as real as possible, which we’ve done with the advice of police advisors who served on actual Major Investigation Teams.

As a reader, what attracts me to a detective series, be it Rankin’s Rebus, MacBride’s Logan McRae or Val McDermid’s Karen Pirie and Carol Jordan, is the impact of the crimes on the investigator and society rather than the crimes themselves. This is something I’ve been at pains to translate into my own writing. In The Unforgiven Dead, my protagonist, Angus MacNeil, is a taibhsear, a Gaelic term for someone who has second sight. An dara sealladh is part gift, part curse. Rather than magic or mummery, second sight is a sixth sense, perhaps a dim remnant of druidic lore woven into the DNA of certain individuals. For Angus, it is an incredibly heavy psychological burden. He is a complex, haunted character, a man of immense empathy, but crippled with guilt over all those whose deaths he foretold but could not prevent.

Angus is surrounded by an equally compelling cast, from a Free Kirk minister and Celtic Reconstructionist pagans, to a Sufist detective and an American ‘green laird’ (who is reintroducing wolves on his vast Highland estate). Through these characters I explore themes of faith, culture, history and our impact on the environment. Ultimately, though, this book is a whodunit with a twist — the twist being that we have two parallel investigations, one the conventional police inquiry, the other a supernatural investigation. The tension between these two competing narratives drives the plot, with readers constantly asking themselves if the killer is a ‘who’ or a ‘what’.