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Guest Post: The Meating Room Author T. Frank Muir on Murder and Other Things in St. Andrews, Scotland

The Meating Room, a thrilling Scottish noir mystery from T. Frank Muir, one of Britain’s top crime authors, is out now; and when Dread Central was asked to take part in his online blog tour for the book, we jumped at the chance, especially when he offered to write about real-life horror tales from the history of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland, where the story takes place.

The town—with its castle ruins and black cliffs—has a number of horror stories in its history, such as heretics being burned alive and witches thrown into the witches’ pool; and Muir paints a vivid picture of it below…

The auld grey toon, as St. Andrews is often referred to, is a delightful place in which to set a crime series. With its cobbled streets, narrow lanes, cathedral ruins, crumbling castle, historic university, and an old harbor pier built from stones stolen from the cathedral all these years ago, this visitor-friendly coastal town is simply steeped in history. To anyone walking along the narrow streets on any cold and dark winter night, it takes little imagination to believe you could have stepped back in time—to a place more bloody than any St. Andrean would care to have you believe.

And what a bloody history St. Andrews has indeed. In the 1500s, when the battle for religious domination on these shores fired up the Protestant movement, hell mend you if you didn’t fall into line. Religious heretics were burned alive at the stake, with cobblestone memorials in the shape of an “X” embedded at the places of their execution around town. One such martyr, Patrick Hamilton, was burned to death at the entrance to St. Salvator’s Quad, after which his face is said to have appeared on one of the stones above the gate. I have stood on that cobblestone cross and eyed that wall, and sure enough, Hamilton himself could be glaring down at his place of execution. Another famous heretic, George Wishart, was burned alive outside St. Andrews Castle, his spot of execution commemorated by similar stonework on the road.

The Archbishop of St. Andrews, Cardinal David Beaton, who orchestrated meaningless trials that resulted in the execution of many heretics in that bloodthirsty period, met his end in a less painful fashion. A band of protestors sailed across the River Tay and rode into town like wild desperadoes, pulled him from his bed, and mercilessly drove a sword through his heart. It might seem disappointing to some that the murderous Archbishop was not thrown onto the nearest pyre and given a dose of his own medicine.

In an age of superstition and religious fanaticism in the 16th and 17th centuries, God-fearing citizens would, from time to time, round up unfortunate—and obviously innocent—women suspected of being witches. Trials, if they could be called that, consisted of tying the poor souls’ thumbs to their toes, then tossing them into the Witch Lake, an open-air pool that filled with the incoming tide and emptied on the ebb. If the woman floated to the surface, this was clear evidence that she was indeed a witch, whereupon she was dragged to the funeral pyre on Witch Hill, strung up and burned alive. More fortunate souls would simply sink to the bottom, irrefutable proof that they were not witches—but drowned and dead nonetheless—leaving the townsfolk to head to the nearest public bar to figure out how they got it so wrong. Back in these black days, so many “witches” were drowned or burned that it might seem to modern-day historians that witch trials were initiated by the local townsfolk simply as an excuse for drunken revelry.

Nowadays, St. Andrews has cleaned up its act, although Fife has not escaped its fair share of serious crime. One homicide in 1991 still remains unsolved. The body of 33-year-old Sandy Drummond was found on a farm track near his home in Boarhills, a few miles from St. Andrews. He’d been strangled to death. His killer allegedly drove off in a red Morris Marina—which has never been found—and remains free to this day.

With its past horrors and modern-day aura of mystery, this quiet seaside town provides the perfect setting for a crime fiction series. The novels featuring DCI Andy Gilchrist of Fife Constabulary’s CID are based in the North Street Police Station, with the bloody basis for the series drawing from a history of dread. In this fictitious St. Andrews, bodies are found around town with bamboo stakes driven through their eyes; amputated hands and other body parts—legs, torso, head—with cryptic clues cut or branded into their flesh are sprinkled around town; a prostitute slave is frozen to death on the Fife Coastal trail, her work associates left behind with their throats cut; a policeman is strapped and bound tightly to a chair, all the better to prevent him from moving while his head was sawn off; a woman’s skeleton is found, one side of her skull crushed as evidence of her brutal end; and a skinned, gutted, and decapitated woman’s corpse lies supine on her bed, as if she’d simply run out of strength trying to defend herself.

The fifth book in the wildly successful DCI Andy Gilchrist crime series, The Meating Room: A DCI Gilchrist Investigation will guarantee sleepless nights and endless page-turning. Within the first 30 pages, readers are confronted with a gory crime accompanied by no small amount of blood; and the ending contains some rather horrifying images before our two investigators become trapped in a labyrinth with a killer.

For more information on T. Frank Muir and his writing, visit his website at FrankMuir.com. His DCI Gilchrist series is the first and only contemporary crime series set in St. Andrews and is most definitely not for the faint-hearted. The Meating Room was released by Chicago Review Press earlier this month (available on Amazon).

Synopsis:
When Thomas Magner’s business partner is found dead in his car on the outskirts of St. Andrews, all evidence points to suicide. Meanwhile Magner, a wealthy property developer, is under investigation for a series of alleged rapes almost thirty years ago. In total, eleven women are prepared to go to court to testify against Magner, but one by one they withdraw their complaints until only six remain.

With the Procurator Fiscal now reconsidering her case, one of the remaining accusers is found brutally murdered in her home. Even though Magner’s alibi is rock solid, DCI Andy Gilchrist is convinced he is somehow responsible. But as Gilchrist and his sidekick, DS Jessie Janes, dig deeper, they begin to expose Magner’s murky past and uncover a horrifying secret that has lain dormant for decades.

Was Magner a serial rapist in his youth? Or something much worse?

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Debi Moore

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