Morgan Cry – Thirty-One Bones
Published by Polygon Books, paperback £8.99. I received a proof copy from the publisher for review purposes.
A new name is on the cover of this novel, but it’s not a debut – Morgan Cry is an alias for crime writer and Bloody Scotland board member Gordon Brown, who has seven titles to the name he shares with the former prime minister. But Thirty-One Bones is a distinct departure from his previous books – a new setting, in sunny Spain, and a new central character in Daniella Coulstoun – so a new name on the cover seems a not unreasonable choice. You’ll want to remember that name too, because this is the kind of holiday reading you’re going to want on your bedside table all year round.
We begin in a bar in a small coastal town in Spain, Se Busca, owned by Effie, who has just persuaded a young man called Paul to invest 20,000 euros into a property scheme that is entirely a scam, when in walks Simon, an aggrieved investor who has figured out what he put his money into and now wants it back. Effie has no intention of that happening – and Simon will struggle even harder to retrieve his cash after Effie drops off her barstool with a massive heart attack, dead by the time she hits the overdue-for-a-polish wood floor.
Her estranged daughter, Daniella, arrives from Glasgow for the funeral to a welcome from George Laidlaw – Effie’s friend, a dodgy lawyer and fellow property scammer – that is less than sympathetic. As Daniella struggles to process her grief and mixed feelings about her mother, she could really do without George’s anger about missing money that she didn’t even know existed. The peculiarities continue as she talks to a Spanish lawyer about her mother’s affairs, and tries to get a handle on what exactly is going on with George and the group of expats that are permanent fixtures in Effie’s bar.
Interspersed between the chapters are transcripts of interviews being conducted by the Spanish police who are investigating Effie’s death, which is an efficient way of dealing with background information and exposition in a way that adds to the intrigue, and builds the tension slowly after that shocking opening into a picture of what Effie was really doing and where this mysterious missing money – 1.3 million euros of it – has gone.
Meanwhile, Daniella discovers she need to learn how to run a pub literally overnight, from paying the cleaner to paying off the boss of the local protection racket. Not what you’d call natural territory for an insurance firm call centre operative – but what is natural territory for her is spotting when someone is trying to con or manipulate her, which comes in very useful when dealing with those hunting the money. Someone once told me a pub with no windows was one you shouldn’t enter – Daniella is definitely braver than she seems, not only stepping inside the window-free Se Busca but truly making it her own despite the obstacles thrown in her path. Her troubles mount as the novel progresses, keeping the pages turning and keeping you rooting for her to succeed.
I’ve never been to Spain, but the pages of Thirty-One Bones are steeped in sunshine and the sights and sounds of the town of El Descaro and took me away from a chilly Edinburgh for a while. Since we’re not going on holiday anytime soon, I suggest you crack open a copy of this novel, perhaps with a glass of something chilled to hand, and have a safe trip to another country without the need for quarantine when you’re finished.
You can also read The Elephant In The Room, a short story featuring Daniella online here, and check out Death Insurance, a novella featuring Daniella Coulstoun and Douglas Skelton’s Rebecca Connolly co-written by Douglas and Morgan/Gordon, which is available as an ebook from Amazon.