cover image The Lady in the Loch

The Lady in the Loch

Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Ace Books, $19.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-441-00582-6

Skillfully cross-stitching history, mystery and old-time urban legend, Scarborough (author of the Nebula-winning The Healer's War) weaves a tale set in 1880s Edinburgh. An armless skeleton that is discovered in the city's partly drained Nor Loch spurs this novel of infatuation, death and magic. Gypsy girls are disappearing into dark carriages and the noddies--bodysnatchers--are thought responsible, for fresh corpses are fetching a pretty penny from medical schools. The story follows three basic plot lines. One features Midge Margret, a gifted palm reader, who searches for the snatched girls and seeks the help of (the) Sir Walter Scott, the city's new sheriff. The second features Scott, as he mingles with the society of Edinburgh and ruminates on writing. He doesn't know how close he is to solving the case of the missing girls until the solution literally jumps out and grabs him. ""Physician's notes"" sprinkled throughout the text make up the third plot line, which offers a disturbing portrait of the villain behind the crimes. Much of the dialogue is told in broad Scots dialect that, though difficult to navigate, suits perfectly a world where corpses accuse their murderers, wounds bleed anew if touched by those who caused them and ""corpse lights"" lead the way to lost bodies. Tension mounts steadily, while the resolution is both satisfying and in keeping with the roles that magic and meaningful coincidence play in this artful work. (Dec.)