One-Minute Book Reviews

November 1, 2007

Highland Games Set the Stage for Murder in Kaitlyn Dunnett’s Mystery With a Scottish Accent, ‘Kilt Dead’

Kilt Dead: A Liss MacCrimmon Mystery. By Kaitlyn Dunnett. Kensington, 282 pp., $22.

By Janice Harayda

These are chilly times for amateur sleuths, those busybodies who solve crimes when they aren’t running bookstores or hair salons or catering services. Their efforts typically depend on a combination of legwork, intuition and the incompetence of the local police, who are too lazy or corrupt to find a killer who has turned up in a picturesque spot like the Ozarks or Cotswolds. And it’s getting harder to make their low-tech successes credible in an age of DNA testing, magnetic resonance imaging and other high-tech aids to crime-solving.

Kaitlyn Dunnett gets part way there in her first mystery about 27-year-old Liss MacCrimmon, who returns to her hometown in western Maine after suffering a career-ending injury while performing with a Riverdance-like Scottish dance company. Back in Moosetookalook, Liss becomes entangled in a murder committed at her aunt’s kilt-and-souvenir shop while the annual Highland Games are going on nearby.

Dunnett lacks a distinctive voice and draws her characters so broadly that most seem to wear hats as white or black as those in the “Spy vs. Spy” series in Mad. But she has staked out a part of New England that has few, if any, other takers in the mystery subgenre known as the cozy. And she has tapped into an enduring American romance with Scottish traditions, from bagpipes to single malts, that the infatuation with Tuscany and Provence hasn’t extinguished. Braveheart may have been ludicrouly unfaithful to the historical record, but it got one thing right: Scottish murders have a ghastliness all their own.

Best line: Dunnett sprinkles her story with bits of Scottish history or tradition, such as this one about a sgian dubh, the small dagger traditionally worn with a kilt: “Sgian dubh translates as ‘black dagger’ and in the old days warriors believed it should never be drawn and returned to its scabbard without spilling blood.”

Worst line: “Dan felt the back of his neck turn red.” He might have felt it getting warm, but could he feel it turning red? And some of Dunnett’s Scottish lore is misleading. One scene involves a man at the Highland Games who wears swimming trunks under his kilt while throwing the clachneart, similar to a shot put. Dunnett explains the bathing suit by saying, “A traditional Scot wasn’t supposed to wear anything at all beneath the kilt, but this was an American version of the Highland Games …” Men also wear trunks under their kilts during field events at Highland Games in Scotland and elsewhere. Even the British Army — which has much stricter rules than others about the wearing of the kilt — exempts from the “nothing underneath” rule any soldiers who are participating in these events and certain others, including parades.

Published: August 2007 www.kaitlyndunnett.com and www.kensingtonbooks.com

Furthermore: Dunnett is a former drummer with a bagpipe band. “Kaitlyn Dunnett” is an apparent pseudonym for Kathy Lynn Emerson, who holds the copyright to Kilt Dead, and plays off the “dunnit” in “whodunnit.” Emerson has written more than 30 books, including the Lady Appleton mystery series, set in 16th-century Scotland. The name of Liss MacCrimmon recalls Scotland’s most famous family of bagpipers, the MacCrimmons. In Scotland a great piper in sometimes called “a real MacCrimmon” in the way that a great musician in 18th century German was called “a real Bach.”

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic and former member of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society who has danced with Scottish dance groups throughout the U.S. and Scotland.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

4 Comments »

  1. I’m a little unsure about the title…Kilt Dead? If its meant to be a pun on “Killed Dead” it’s a very laboured one.
    Indeed, it is true about the trunks stipluation. I think it’s to combat what they call in the trade “a cheeky wind”!

    Comment by kevmoore — November 1, 2007 @ 3:58 pm | Reply

  2. P.S. I’ve just noticed that Kaitlyn is an anagram of “Any Kilt”

    Comment by kevmoore — November 2, 2007 @ 5:42 am | Reply

  3. My goodness, one doesn’t expect “this kind of thing” in Moosetookalook. It’s nice to see a writer of promise evolve and ultimately nail down a distinctive, or at least workable, voice and style.

    We can wait hopefully for Dunnett’s next book.

    Malcolm

    Comment by knightofswords — November 2, 2007 @ 11:48 am | Reply

  4. Kev: Wow! You’re sharp. I completely missed that anagram. Thanks for pointing it out. Yes, the “Kilt Dead” is a play on “Killed Dead.” It is a bit labored, but that sort of wordplay is so common in mystery titles that people seem to accept it more than they might in other genres.

    I also appreciate the introduction to the phrase “cheeky wind,” another new one to me. I once sat a few dozen yards away from Queen Elizabeth at the mother of all Highland Games, the Braemar. And the man tossing the caber in front of her was definitely wearing something under his kilt and not flaunting his personal crown jewels to the royal entourage …

    Malcolm: Don’t you love that name, Moosetookalook? Details like that may help to explain why the “cozy” has survived in a high-tech age. If “CSI” has ever gone to Moosetookalook, I missed it. And talk about good Scottish names. “Malcolm” up there with the best of them.

    Jan

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — November 2, 2007 @ 1:29 pm | Reply


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