The south-west of Scotland is dominated by the region of Galloway, known somewhat ironically as the Scottish Riviera for its (comparatively) sunny weather. Beloved by painters such as the Glasgow Boys, it’s one of the more picturesque parts of the country, home to green hills and blue waters. My fiancé’s family hails from the region, and I’ve visited more times than I can count in the years I’ve been lucky enough to know him. It is unsurprising, then, that Aline Templeton’s DI Marjory Fleming series, set in the fictional market town of Kirkluce, Galloway, caught my eye. I’m always interested in settings I’ve been to in real life, but it’s rare for me to find books that so vividly and accurately depict a place I know so well.
The series follows Fleming in her work as a Detective Inspector, first for the Galloway Constabulary and later with Police Scotland, as she solves murders in her rural community. Each novel is a self-contained murder mystery, set against the backdrop of Galwegian society and within the context of the lives of Marjory and her fellow officers.
These books are part mystery, part social commentary, and part women’s fiction. The core story in each novel is a murder mystery, but it’s woven into the fabric of rural politics and national events. In Cold in the Earth, for instance, the foot-and-mouth crisis from the start of the 21st-century plays a major role both in the story as a whole and in Marjory’s personal life, for her husband, Bill, is a sheep farmer. Likewise, in the most recent installment, The Third Sin, the Scottish referendum is fast approaching and the discrete police forces have recently merged into Police Scotland, and Marjory finds herself at loggerheads with her Dumfries counterpart when she is brought into a case whose murder occurred on his turf. The way Templeton orients these books within actual Scottish events may not mean much to readers outside the UK, but for me it reinforces the realness of the world she’s created in these books, as do the rich depictions of places I’ve been.
Whether it’s Marjory’s somewhat turbulent relationship with her teenage daughter or the relationship between murderer and victim, these books are, ultimately, about people and their relationships with each other, and all the ways those relationships might be defined. The focus on the characters is one of my favourite things about this series. Marjory’s relationships – with her family, with her colleagues, with her boss, and with the people she serves – intersect and come into conflict with one another throughout the series, and this is one of the ways in which this being a series rather than discrete mysteries is so great. Although the murders are always resolved by the end of the book, the main characters stay and, in the interests of verisimilitude, there’s always a couple of years between the events of each book. Picking up a new book in this series feels like catching up with old friends, and the time skip between books means that each time I return to the series I’m eager to find out what the characters have been up to, and sinking into their comfortable familiarity.
There’s something for everyone in this series, whether you’re looking for a fast-paced murder mystery or a glimpse into rural Scottish society. Templeton’s rich description pulls you under, immersing you in her world as she shares her characters’ lives with you. If you like Robert Galbraith’s novels, you’ll love this series.