Cover image for The gripping beast
The gripping beast
Wadley, Margot.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
200 pages ; 22 cm
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On the windswept Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland, the mysterious rings, standing stones, and elaborate tombs of ancient peoples still survive, as do the ruins of the Picts who followed them and the monuments and graves of the Vikings, who ruled the Islands for hundreds of years. Today's inhabitants, though gentle, modern Scots, try to keep alive their ever-present, turbulent history and the rich folklore of their ancestors. Margot Wadley uses this dramatic background to introduce her heroine, Isabel Garth, an American woman who travels to Orkney to mourn her father and to illustrate his journals-the memories of his childhood there. On the sea journey she meets Johanna MacLeod and her son, Andrew. The boy tells Isabel that a fellow passenger is a Viking witch, a claim his chiding mother denies. But as soon as Isabel steps off the ferry Thora, the freckled, blue-jeaned, self-styled witch, accosts Isabel with a warning of danger if she remains in the Islands. Isabel dismisses the warning as theatrics, but as the days go by she is plagued by a rash of accidents. Could Thora be right?Maybe she is in danger. But from whom? As the list of suspects grows, Isabel becomes unwillingly drawn into the search for a missing treasure. Then Isabel finds a body. In the stormy landscape of Isabel's heritage, the combination of ancient ruins, rare birds, and Viking gold help her discover a killer. Can they also help her to save a life?AUTHORBIO: Margot Wadley is the 2000 winner of the St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel Contest. She lives in Blacksburg, VA and has traveled to the Orkney Islands.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

As the winner of the 2000 St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery contest, Wadley's work shows promise, but a reliance on contrivance and clich suggests she's still learning the literary ropes. This debut novel's strengths include the unusual Orkney island setting and a sensitive heroine, Isabel Garth, a young American teacher who comes to Stromness to pay tribute to the memory of her late father, a native of the island, and find out what she can of his past. Straight off the ferry Isabel encounters the local "witch," Thora, who tells her: "There is danger for you here. I can feel it. Go home." After someone ransacks her hotel room, steals her drawings and tampers with her car brakes, Isabel has to wonder if she should heed Thora's warning. A buried Viking treasure (a gripping beast is a Viking art motif), a pregnancy Isabel may or may not terminate and, ultimately, Thora's murder all add to the brew of simmering menace (lines from Macbeth head each chapter). Unfortunately, while Wadley keeps the reader well attuned to her protagonist's feelings, her plotting doesn't rise much above the gothic romance level. When at the climax Isabel confronts Thora's killer, a natural disaster all too conveniently intervenes. The lack of topical references may convey a certain timelessness, but their absence also results in a story perhaps more old-fashioned than traditional. Still, there's no reason to think that Wadley can't do better next time. (Apr. 13) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

American Isabel Garth journeys to the Orkney Islands after her father's death so that she can illustrate the journals he left about growing up there. Her jaunt begins ominously when a local "witch" scares her, a local remodeler warns her away from her father's childhood home, and she suffers a series of untoward mishaps.The plot escalates with Isabel's discovery that her father's recently deceased childhood friend found a Viking treasure, then hid it from greedy relatives. Not unexpectedly, the continuing search for the treasure results in murder. Evocative settings and an effective plot recommends this for most collections. [Wadley's debut was winner of the 2000 SMP/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Contest.DEd.] (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Peace! The charm's wound up . --Macbeth, ACT I, SCENE iii According to Andrew, there was a witch on board. He lifted wide, dark eyes to meet mine and said, "Thora. She's here, too, on the St. Ola . She's a witch."     His shyness returned and he dropped his gaze. He turned toward the sea again as if still delighting in the view, although the craggy cliffs had disappeared into the distant haze, and this pastoral shoreline could hardly have been less dramatic.     This witch was an old argument, it seemed. Before the boy turned away, I saw the thick yell of his lashes flicker, and saw him cast a challenging glance at his mother, Johanna. Whether she noticed the look or not, she protested only mildly.     "Oh, Andrew," said Johanna, "you know she's not."     "But she is," he said, rounding back to us once more, his shyness already replaced by his eagerness to defend himself. "I saw her."     "Aye, I know she's here," Johanna said patiently, "I saw her myself. She's not a witch, I mean."     "But she told me she was. And once, last summer, I saw--" He stopped without telling us what he'd seen. He turned to me with a shrug, conceding to a distinction he seemed to consider insignificant. "Oh, all right, then, she says she's a witch."     Johanna smiled, with a shrug of her own. "Sorry, Isabel. Andrew is right, though, I must admit. The lass does say she's a witch. But she never does anything witchlike. At least, if she does I've never seen any evidence of it. Nor has anyone, so far as I know." She pushed her fingers through her hair, putting on a thoughtful expression. "Though what a witch is supposed to do in this day and age ..." She trailed off, laughing.     Why couldn't Andrew have seen a ghost, instead? Scotland abounded in ghosts--romantic figures in floating dress, or wailing, clanking, clamorous ghosts. They were boasted of or grandly disregarded, or used to tempt tourists into renting haunted castles. Even the bed-and-breakfast where I had slept last night, that small, unassuming house in Inverness, claimed its own ghost, though to me it had remained silent and invisible.     But he'd said a witch, and I knew nothing of those. Except, of course, for Macbeth's witches. Everyone, even schoolboys, knew of those three. And Macbeth's witches had appeared to him not far from where we'd boarded the St. Ola , in the far north of Scotland, foretelling Macbeth's grisly future in sweet-sounding riddles, chanting, Double, double toil and trouble ... as they stirred into their pot the eye of newt and toe of flog.     I pictured my schoolchildren in their tattered costumes, dancing around a papier-mâché cauldron fueled by a flickering lightbulb fire. Without intending to say it aloud, I heard myself only slightly misquoting a greeting from the play, "How now, you secret, black and midnight hag."     There was silence for a moment. Then Andrew straightened and peered up at me, his solemn face splitting into a wide grin. "Oh no, not a Scottish witch," he said. "A Viking witch."