The Dead of Appin: a charred corpse leads Oban DI Blue on a trail of murder and corruption

Allan Martin, creator of the Oban-based DI Angus Blue series of West Coast crime thrillers.

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Just outside Oban, within sight of the Connel Bridge, there’s a burned-out car containing the charred remains of a human body.

A woman is missing – but is the body hers?

In a high stakes game of business and politics, what secret does the bustling port of Oban hide that is worth killing for?

That’s the teaser for a West Coast crime thriller, The Dead of Appin, the third in the Oban-based Inspector Angus Blue series, following The Peat Dead and The Dead of Jura.

The author, Allan Martin, although born in Glasgow, has long connections to Jura and Colonsay, where his father’s family hail from.

He has worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and university lecturer, and turned to writing fiction only after taking early retirement: ‘the best decision I ever made,’ he said.

‘It was natural to set the books in places I know and love, and feel a real affinity for,’ he said. ‘These are special places with unique land and seascapes. And, of course, Angus Blue’s favourite whiskies! As a product of this area, Angus Blue is a man of integrity who believes in justice as a moral as well as a legal concept.’

Martin’s first novel, The Peat Dead, featuring DI Angus Blue, was shortlisted for the inaugural McIlvanney Debut Prize in 2019. On the Isle of Islay, ‘five corpses are dug up by a peat-cutter. All of them have been shot in the back of the head, execution style.

‘Sent across from the mainland to investigate, Inspector Angus Blue and his team slowly piece together the little evidence they have, and discover the men were killed on a wartime base, more than 70 years ago. But there are still secrets worth protecting – and even killing for. Who can Inspector Blue trust?’

It was followed by The Dead of Jura, an island ‘where the rich and the powerful come to play away from the prying eyes of the press. But when there is an assassination attempt on a Cabinet Minister while he’s on his island estate, questions must be asked, and Inspector Angus Blue and his team return to the Hebrides to investigate.’

Deemed a matter of ‘National Security’ by London, local protocols are overruled, and Special Branch officers are sent to hunt down the assassin. By the time Inspector Blue and his team arrive the estate staff have been scared into silence, and the crime scene has been disturbed. His investigation hampered at every turn, Inspector Blue must discover what Special Branch are hiding – and who they are protecting.

Martin lives just north of Glasgow with his wife Vivien (also a writer). They regularly visit the Highlands and Islands, as well as Germany and Estonia. In addition to the Angus Blue series, he writes crime novels set in 1930s Estonia, and he has also translated from Estonian a closed-room mystery, The Oracle, originally published in 1937.

The Dead of Appin

The car was well alight by then; probably doused with petrol before being torched. Renault Clio, by the way. We put a pipe into the loch and gave it a good drenching. We gave the back end of the cottage a splash too, just in case. The car was pretty burnt out in the end.

It wasn’t till then we could get close enough to see inside with the spotlight from the engine, and realised there was something there.

I must admit, it wasn’t easy to spot; it had slumped down from the passenger seat into the footwell, and suffered a lot of fire damage. Looked more like a charred lump than a corpse. So you’re going to have a bit of trouble identifying it, I guess.

We’re just hanging on now to make sure it doesn’t reignite. That could happen if there were something flammable in the boot, for instance. Anything obvious would have gone up by now. Probably easier to wait till it gets a wee bit lighter and the car’s a bit cooler before you get too close.

The corpse is not going to run away, and the car won’t be going anywhere either.