Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

In the summer of 1973, 11 year old Miller McAllister is very happy. His family own a house overlooking the sea on the East Coast of Scotland and the small island, Fidra, that's visible from the mainland house. The youngest of three children, Miller and his father Douglas love the island, with its birds, wildlife, old ruins and the simple cottage residence.

When Douglas is arrested, tried and found guilty of the rape and murder of three young girls, Miller is profoundly affected. To start with he believes in his father's innocence, but when the girl bodies are found on Fidra, he falls apart. While Miller's mother, sister and older brother stand stoically beside Douglas, protesting his innocence, Miller believes totally in his guilt and he cuts himself off from his father - a dramatic and damaging act for such a young boy. He tries to start his own life when he is old enough, but nothing is ever really right with Miller from that day on. More than 30 years later Miller is pulled back to the family home and island when his father dies. Despite Miller's reaction to his father, he alone has inherited the house and the island but the condition seems to have been a plea to re-assess the evidence against Douglas. Despite his better judgement Miller is pulled into rechecking the facts. With the help of his childhood friend Catriona Buchan and Duncan - a monk and close friend of his mother, Miller unearths the truth of the triple murders and confronts the whole family's demons.

THE RECKONING is a pretty harrowing book. The setting, which incorporates the old house, the island, rugged coastlines and the brooding presence of a ruined castle perched high above the sea create a feeling of closed off, sinister insularity. Add to that a family, initially seemingly very happy, who are forced, with very few close and lifelong friends, to close ranks and protect themselves in the aftermath of the conviction of the father for such dreadful crimes. The insularity of the family translates directly into Miller's own personality - he has become more and more disconnected from himself, his own wife and children, and his siblings. As he fights the conflict he feels towards the memory of his father and reinvestigating the trial, he becomes more stressed and more fragile.

The story is relatively well paced, and there are a reasonable set of possible suspects - including the man who Scottish justice convicted of the crime. There are attempts peppered throughout the book to provide third party background on the case, the island and the family. This does break up the flow of the narrative slightly and, given that Miller is such an intense, worrying, almost foreboding character in his own right, these forays into extra information are a bit distracting and give the whole book a bit of a choppy feel at times. It's certainly a very busy plot, moving from the current, back to the lead up to the deaths of the girls, through the investigation and then briefly into the families lives post the trial, although sometimes some of these areas were overly detailed and some too brush stroke.

What was really interesting about THE RECKONING was the exploration of a brutal series of murders and the affect that they have on more than just the victim's family. In this case there were three dead girls, and one very damaged little boy.

Year of Publication

It was on a beautiful morning in June 1973 that eleven-year-old Miller McAllister’s world fell apart … That was the weekend that police found the remains of three missing teenage girls on the tiny Scottish island of Fidra. And that was the weekend that Miller’s father, Douglas, was arrested for triple murder. Thirty-two years later, Douglas has died in prison and Miller returns home after decades of self-imposed exile. The McAllister family always maintained Douglas’s innocence – as steadfastly as Miller maintained his guilt. But when Miller is given the legal archive and a letter his father wrote to him just days before his death, suddenly everything looks less clear. To excavate the past and recover the truth, Miller immerses himself in the terrible events of over thirty years ago and his family’s darkest hour. Was nothing quite as it seemed on that fateful June day? Could Douglas McAllister have been innocent after all? And if he didn’t kill the girls … who did? 

Review THE RECKONING - Sue Walker
Karen Chisholm
Monday, October 15, 2007

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