24 Jul 2017


Blog Tour Book Excerpt / The Dark Isle by Clare Carson

Sam grew up in the shadow of the secret state. Her father was an undercover agent, full of tall stories about tradecraft and traitors. Then he died, killed in the line of duty.
Now Sam has travelled to Hoy, in Orkney, to piece together the puzzle of her father's past. Haunted by echoes of childhood holidays, Sam is sure the truth lies buried here, somewhere.

What she finds is a tiny island of dramatic skies, swooping birds, rugged sea stacks and just four hundred people. An island remote enough to shelter someone who doesn't want to be found. An island small enough to keep a secret...

Orkney, September 1989

SAM STROLLED THROUGH the graveyard to the shore, hoping to escape the sense of being watched, but the shifting outline of Hoy made her uneasy. She stared at its treacherous north face of stacks and caves, shrouded by spray where the towering cliffs plunged into the sea and met the breakers rolling in from the Atlantic. The twilight made the isle appear more cloud than land, a storm gathering across the water. She trailed the high tide mark, her eyes still drawn to the island rather than watching where she was placing her feet, and almost tripped over the rusty corpse of the seal among the bladder wrack, starbursts scarring its abdomen where the body had bloated and exploded leaving the brine to preserve its hide. She leaned and stroked the leathery skin then parked herself by the dead creature. The still presence gave her strange comfort. She waited. A pipistrelle flitted past. The mountains of Hoy blurred with the darkening sky. The North Star gleamed. Surely he would have disappeared by now. She decided to risk it, stood and retraced her steps inland along the burn. The sea breeze buffeted her from behind and she tried to hold the gusts in her mind, but the wind slipped away, rattled the deadheads of the cow parsley lining the path. Left her with a knot in her stomach.

She reached the graveyard and heard the hurried footsteps of somebody retreating as she pushed the gate. She cut through the grey tombstones, past the yellow walls of the Round Church, surveyed the Earl’s Bu and the field beyond for signs. The Norse Earls had made their home here in Orphir on the southern edge of Orkney’s Mainland, the settlement recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga. A place of deaths and ghosts. There had been dusky evenings when she had stood here and thought she’d glimpsed the shadows of pissed Norsemen fighting among the ruins of their great drinking hall, but this evening she saw nothing apart from a hooded crow pecking among the stones. He was there, though, she could tell. Watching. She had been aware of his presence all summer. She had tried to ignore the constant prickle at the back of her neck as she grappled with the gradiometer, the new-fangled piece of kit they were using to try to locate the buried remains of the Norse settlement. They couldn’t dig because the ruins ran under the cemetery and they didn’t want to disturb the graves. Geophysical surveys were a good way of detecting sub-surface features without excavating and causing damage, the archaeologist in charge of the site had said. Like water dowsing, she replied. He laughed and said if they didn’t find anything with the equipment, perhaps she could have a go with her hazel divining rods.
The initial results were not promising. Too many anomalous spikes in the data, either because the ruins lay too deep to be detected or, as the archaeologist suggested when the monitor went haywire, there was some strange force buggering up the readings. He had looked at Sam when he said that and accused her of having supernatural powers that interfered with the magnetic fields. It had taken her a couple of seconds to realize he was joking. She was the one who had mentioned water dowsing after all. The archaeologist had invited her to come back the following summer to help with another survey, if they could find the funding. She had recently finished a history degree and now, at twenty-three, was about to start a doctorate. She would love to write her thesis on the Earl’s Bu, she had said. It would be a relief, she had added – four years of academic study. He had raised an eyebrow. A relief? She had corrected herself. More of a retreat than a relief. A retreat from what, he had asked. Her father’s dodgy legacy, she had wanted to say; Jim had been a police spy, killed five years before, and she’d never quite escaped his shadow. She shrugged instead of speaking. He had eyed her shrewdly and said retreating was fine as a temporary strategy but eventually you had to turn and face the ghosts, assess the ruins that lay below one way or another. She wasn’t so sure. She had volunteered for the archaeological project in Orkney, drawn back by the happier memories of childhood holidays here with Jim, the darker recollections buried deeper. The presence of the watcher made her fear that somebody else was digging in the murkier corners of her family’s history, unearthing events best forgotten. Her return to Orkney had disturbed ghosts of a more solid and ominous kind, she feared, than the spectres of long dead Norsemen.