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  • Lynne Shelby

Holiday Reading #1 - Death on a Longship - Marsali Taylor

One of the great pleasures of a summer holiday is sitting in the sun and reading a book.

A book I'll be reading on the beach this summer is 'Death on a Longship' by Marsali Taylor.

In the book, yachtswoman Cass Lynch has just landed her dream job: she’s the skipper of a replica Viking longship in a high-profile Hollywood film, starring the famous actress Favelle. It takes Cass back to her native Shetland Islands, and the father she’s barely spoken to since she ran away to sea as a teenager. Then she finds a body on the longship deck, and before long she’s chief suspect...

This week I caught up with Marsali to find out which books she'll be reading on holiday...

Me: Hi Marsali, What are your holiday plans for this year?

Marsali: First, our family holiday, which I’ll say more about in a minute; then, in September, I have such an exciting trip planned! An old lady I knew when I was a child was one of the ambulance drivers with Dr Eslie Inglis’ Scottish Womens’ Hospital, attached to the Serbian Army in WWI. Aunt Ysabel drove for them on the Russian Front in 1916, and came home via the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg. I transcribed and published her diaries, under the title Forgotten Heroines, and this put me in touch with an SWH enthusiast, who has organised a trip to the Serbian hospitals used by Dr Inglis. 1917 is the centenary of Dr Inglis’ death – she was already gravely ill with stomach cancer when she led the Russian trip – and the Serbs are making a big occasion of it. We’ll visit the places associated with her, and there’s to be a memorial ceremony. Most of the people going are relatives of Dr Inglis, and to be invited is a huge honour.

Then, in October – a week after returning from Serbia! – my husband and I are heading for Canada. I’ve always, always, wanted to go to Canada, so I leapt on the excuse of Bouchercon (the big American crime festival) being in Toronto. We’re having three days in Vancouver, then flying to the heart of the Rockies for three days more in the wilderness, doing guided walks and a raft trip, enjoying the autumn colour and hopefully seeing grizzly bears. Then we end with three days in Toronto. It’s going to be amazing.

Me: That sounds like two fabulous trips, Marsali. What is your favourite place to go on holiday?

Marsali: Loch Hourn, the most Norwegian of the Scottish lochs. I’m off there in just a week, to join my brother, sister, their assorted spouses and children, and my own daughter and grandchildren at the cottage where we spent our childhood summers. We lost the use of it when I was sixteen, and we all loved it too much to dare to go back, in case it had changed - until, for her 60th birthday, my sister said wistfully, ‘The farm’s a B&B now – I’d like to go there.’ For her, I booked us all in. We arrived, dreading it being all different, and you know, it wasn’t.

It was more gob-smackingly beautiful even than I remembered, and every twist in the road, every burn, every scent of heather and seaweed, was engraved in our hearts. We walked along to our cottage - it’s three miles from the head of the loch – and found, from what we could see with noses pressed to the windows, that it hadn’t changed either … and then the current owners kindly said, ‘But you must come back to the cottage next time!’ So we did, and found that our childhood heights were still pencilled up the wall, and some of my childhood books were on the shelves (I enjoyed re-reading them). There’s running water via the burn, no electricity, definitely no WiFi, and we’ll have a wonderful time. The children will make houses on the rocks, just as we did fifty years ago, and we’ll all mess about in boats, and go for long tramps on the hill; I’ll make doll-sized scones and pancakes just as my mum used to, and we’ll just enjoy being together, mixing across the generations.

Me: What was your most memorable holiday?

Marsali: Being a writer attending crime conferences has given me wonderful memories!

I’ve been driven at dawn through an Icelandic sunrise, crimson above the sharp, black hills, and seen a snow-white fox slipping through the lava. I imagined the clashing steel and coloured banners of the Cavalier court in the tree-lined Merton meadows in Oxford, and amused current-day students with my attempt at punting! I shuddered in a plague close deep under medieval Edinburgh, and enjoyed the organist practising in Norwich Cathedral.

Abroad, with my family, I’ve sunbathed on Brittany beaches, rambled between flowering sage bushes on Greek hillsides, drunk bubbly at breakfast in Vienna and seen the dancing white stallions perform in their chandelier-lit ballroom.

Oh, yes, and I’ve sailed on a three-masted ship, Sorlandet, from Kristiansand to Belfast, and stood braced at the great wheel, with the ship living under my hands, the water curling against her sides, and tier after tier of white sails arching up into the clouds. Life doesn’t get better than that!

Me: How lovely to have visited so many wonderful places, Marsali. Which books have you enjoyed reading on your travels?

Marsali: I review books for the e-zine Mystery People, and so for the journey, I always take a couple of those. After that, I like reading books set where I am: so, in France, I’d head for the wonderful Fred Vargas; in Greece, I enjoyed Mary Stewart; for Norway, I read the Kristin Lavransdattir trilogy. I do hope anyone coming to Shetland would pick up one of my Cass books and enjoy traditional murder and mayhem in our beautiful setting. The first book in the series is Death on a Longship. But for transporting you away from the horrors of modern airports, well, Kathleen Jamie’s Findings sustained me through a three-hour delay in Edinburgh. It’s a series of essays set all over Scotland. With her, I visited a Neolithic tomb, watched peregrine falcons, sailed the Minch … all without moving from Gate 20.

Me: Thank you, Marsali, for telling us about your holiday adventures and for recommending some fabulous beach reads.

About Marsali Taylor

Marsali Taylor’s writing career began with plays for her school pupils to perform in the local Festival. Her first Shetland-set crime novel starring quick-witted, practical sailor Cass Lynch and Inverness DI Gavin Macrae was published in 2013, and there are now five in the series. Reviewers have praised their clever plotting, lively characters and vividly-evoked setting. Marsali’s interest in history is shown in her self-published Women’s Suffrage in Shetland, and Norse-set crime novella, Footsteps in the Dew. She’s a member of the Crime Writers’ Association, helped organise the 2015 Shetland Noir festival, and is a ‘regular’ at Bloody Scotland and Iceland Noir.

To find out more about Marsali and her writing, please join her on Facebook at

or on her website:

To purchase her books, please visit her Amazon page is

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