05/18/2024

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Track the Untold Stories

The Hollow Mountain by Douglas Skelton (Rebecca Connolly #6) @DouglasSkelton1 @PolygonBooks

The Hollow Mountain by Douglas Skelton (Rebecca Connolly #6) @DouglasSkelton1 @PolygonBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 May 2024 from Polygon
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1846976636

My thanks to Birlinn Books and Polygon for an advance copy for review

The Tunnel Tigers were an elite group of construction workers who specialised in a lucrative but hazardous profession – blasting tunnels through mountains and under rivers, in dangerous conditions few men could endure.

Alice Larkin, the headstrong daughter of a millionaire and former news reporter, claims her lover, a Tunnel Tiger, died in mysterious circumstances many years ago, and she wants journalist Rebecca Connolly to investigate.

Intrigued, Rebecca throws herself into investigating the story, but she soon comes face to face with an old adversary. Family legacies and influential reputations are at stake – and danger is shockingly close to home.

Douglas Skelton is a skilled and accomplished writer. His Rebecca Connolly series has really well imagined characters with depth and integrity. I think that’s why, although the crimes in these books are important, the focus is usually on the characters rather than the actual deeds and it is always to the characters we return to find out if our empathy or our dislike is justified in terms of what the book reveals about motive and intent.

The Hollow Mountain has a dual timeline. In the present day, Rebecca and her boss, Elspeth are in Glasgow to be filmed for a documentary about one of their previous cases and Alan and Chas are joining them later.

While in Glasgow Elspeth and Rebecca meet up with an old friend and former boss of Elspeth’s, her former Editor, Forbes McKay. He has a story for then, or, to be precise, his cousin, ex TV news presenter Alice Larkin does.

Alice Larkin is bed-ridden and clearly not keeping too well. She yells the women that she has a story to tell, but that she wants them to investigate in order to make up their own minds about what went on. It is, she tells them, a story about an unreported and therefore unsolved murder. To help them, she has written out the story, but will parcel it out to the women in chapters, so that their own investigations are what cause them to reach their conclusions.

Thereafter the novel reaches back in time to Alice’s account of what happened near Pitlochry in late 1950’s and early 1960’s when the Ben Cruachan mountain was being excavated by the ‘Tunnel Tigers’ in preparation for making the hydro-electricity power station bringing power to the Highlands. This is interspersed with the present day and what Rebecca and Elspeth themselves discover.

Cruachan Reservoir Image c. James Hearton

I love what Skelton does with this book. The very real and authentic depiction of the ‘tunnel tigers’ an elite group of construction workers who specialised in a highly paid but dangerous profession: driving tunnels through mountains. In the 1950s they were involved in a score of huge hydroelectric tunnels in Pitlochry and the Highlands of Scotland. Many of them came from Donegal, and there were tensions created when men of various religious and ethnic groups shared the same dangerous space.

He takes this true scenario and marries it with Alice’s story. The story of a rich man’s daughter who falls for a tunnel tiger and whose actions displease a number of people, including Alice’s own father. Rebecca is intrigued and really gets caught up in investigating Alice’s story, but before long she realises that this case has modern day links to an old foe – one she hoped not to see again.

Skelton’s flair for characterisation has given Rebecca a depth of character that is totally three dimensional and her daily interactions with people allow you to understand just how driven she is but also how much she values her friendships.

Here Rebecca follows a paper trail without any of us understanding quite where it is going or how far reaching it will be. It even touches on her family history in a way that is deeply personal. Both the contemporary and the 50’s elements of this story become more closely knit as the full story gets closer to being revealed and some shocking and dramatic moments ensure that nothing will ever be quite the same again.

Verdict: Skelton has delivered a shocking, brutal and yet gloriously well-written book which speaks to human nature and the pursuit of justice in a flawed and dangerous world. I liked this book a lot and I found that I was left with an even greater understanding of what lies behind Rebecca’s personality more than ever. I don’t know what lies in store for her, but the events of this book must surely constitute a pivotal moment in her life.

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Douglas Skelton was born in Glasgow. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), journalist and investigator. He has written several true crime and Scottish criminal history books but now concentrates on fiction. Thunder Bay (longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize), The Blood Is StillA Rattle of Bones and Where Demons Hide are the first four novels in the bestselling Rebecca Connolly thriller series.