Michael Ridpath

Free To Trade

"..a gripping novel which attached itself to my hands and didn’t let go until I was finished. "


Alastair Cunningham has been found concussed at the bottom of the stairs in the house he rents near Ben Wyvis. His memory is completely gone. He has no family and his only friend is Madeleine who lives in New York. Madeleine reaches out to her niece, Clémence who is studying at St Andrews to see to Alastair while she herself travels to Scotland. Reluctant, but not having much to do during the holidays as she is estranged from her parents for various reasons, Clémence goes to Alastair’s aid. She takes him back to his house named ‘Culzie’ and the scene of the accident.

It is during her stay with Alastair that she discovers a book titled, ‘Death at Wyvis’ written by Angus Culzie. Clémence has very little knowledge of her family having been born in Morocco and only vague distant memories of her grandfather, her paternal grandmother having been drowned at a young age. But as Clémence begins ‘Death at Wyvis’, she realises that the family history she has been told cannot be true, that a catastrophic series of events led to the decline of her father’s family. So it becomes necessary for Clémence to read the book out aloud to Alastair in the hope of bringing him out of his amnesia and for Clémence to discover what really happened to her family and why so many lies? But as she reads, little do the young girl and the octogenarian realise that as they seek the truth, someone is making sure they never find it.

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Ridpath takes us on another journey, this time to the mountains and lochs of Scotland. The mountain of Ben Wyvis stands like a sentinel over the proceedings, a vast landscape for a murder that took place forty years ago. This barren land full of flora and fauna is described so wonderfully by Ridpath that I could feel the cold wind across the moors as the stags majestically strolled across the mountainous land. I have read many novels which have used the ‘book within a book’ device with not very sound results. However, Ridpath perfectly tells his story via ‘Death at Wyvis’ to show us the deeds that transpired over forty years ago. I have never been to Capri, but Ridpath’s descriptions of the island transported me there so I could smell the land, the plant-life and spirit of the island with great intensity. It was fascinating to see through Angus/Alastair’s eyes the wealth and wanton waste of the nouveau riche and their hangers on. With great subtlety, Ridpath luxuriously unravels his tale, revealing slowly, but without losing pace, what occurred during the forties and fifties and the repercussions that reverberate in 1999. Cleverly, Ridpath puts Clémence with no knowledge of her family history, alongside Alastair and his amnesia, so that by reading ‘Death at Wyvis’ both are ignorant of their past and both become cognizant of the truth together. To say more would give the game away, but ‘Amnesia’ ends as a fable as to what happens when people heap lie upon lie upon lie to cover the truth. No matter what, the truth always has the habit of making its way to the surface. ‘Amnesia’ is a gripping novel which attached itself to my hands and didn’t let go until I was finished. A superb tale in the vein of Barbara Vine.

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