A Trick of the Light

‘McLevy is a sort of Victorian Morse with a heart’

Financial Times

‘McLevy is one of the great psychological creations, and Ashton is the direct heir to Robert Louis Stevenson’ Brian Cox, star of the BBC Radio 4 McLevy plays

‘You can easily imagine the bustling life of a major port, and the stories are alive with a most amazing array of characters’

BBC Radio 4

‘David Ashton, like Robert Louis Stevenson or Ian Rankin, is inspired by the beauty-and-beast nature of Edinburgh. His interpretation of James McLevy is worthy of the original man’

Sherlock Holmes Society

‘Ashton’s McLevy … is a man obsessed with meting out justice, and with demons of his own’

The Scotsman

‘An intriguing Victorian detective story … elegant and convincing’

The Times on Shadow of the Serpent

’Dripping with melodrama and derring-do’

The Herald on Fall from Grace

A Trick of the Light

An Inspector McLevy Mystery





One of my cousins, long ago,

A little thing, the mirror said,

Was carried to a couch to show,

Whether a man was really dead.

JAMES THOMSON, ‘In the Room’

Leith Docks, Edinburgh, 1864

The man had been running for his life. A shaft of light from one of the creaking ships moored in the harbour caught his face like a lover’s hand and tilted it to the side as he came to a juddering halt in one of the narrow wynds; the stone passages that spread like broken veins from the main artery of the Old Docks.

Breath jagged in his throat, heart jumping as he listened. Nothing. Good. He had lost them.

The face was almost petulant, a drooping full lower lip somewhat redeemed by the bony hooked nose and flecked hazel eyes. He had lost his hat in the chase and his golden hair glinted treacherously like a beacon in the stray beam of light. It flopped over one eye in a manner some might describe as affectation but his wife thought most becoming. Like a true plantation owner. A shadow in the sugar cane.

A bitter smile crossed the man’s face. His name was Jonathen Sinclair. He was an officer in the Confederate Army and a measure out of his depth as a clandestine agent beyond the battlefield.

And his wife? She was far away. Lost in a dream.

The silence was profound; just the soft hissing of the rain, hardly audible, a saturating, insidious blanket of moisture that seeped into his very bones.

Melissa. Sweet Melissa. They had married with the approaching Civil War as best man. Since then, only snatched moments of marital bliss where the grim spread of death and blood did not stain her pretty dress nor lessen the desire that her husband must acquit himself a hero.

But that was before Cemetery Ridge, and before the Alabama was sunk in Cherbourg breakwater with thousands howling on the shore as the ship went down. How many men swam under the sea that day? How many brave sailor boys? What songs were they singing?

Jonathen Sinclair realised – approaching midnight in the Leith docks, in a foreign land, in a damp, dank climate where the sun seemed to grudge each moment in the sky – that he was not a hero. Not by a long travail. He was capable of heroic deeds most certainly, but he could not hammer through the long pain. A real hero

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