David Cairns’ latest novel The Case of Emigrant Niece is bursting with mystery, action, and adventure told through the eyes of protagonist Major Findo Gask. This novel dives into the changing world of the nineteenth century of upheaval, exploration and war filled with moments of hope, loss and power. Cairns throws the reader into a world of mystery, devilish plots of revenge, murder and greed that propels Findo Gask into playing the role of a military hero turned detective. The novel begins with Gask suffering a permanent injury to his leg during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and leaving military service. This life-altering event leads to the question of what Gask will do now his military career is over. The murder of many patients while Gask is recovering from his injury leaves Gask curious to investigate and save his fellow patients from death. This encounter sets the tone and pace for the story suggesting complex plans of hidden identities and greed that later permeate Gask’s investigations in Scotland and Melbourne.
Gask’s desire for employment and after a brief stay with his brother Glenn in Scotland leads him to the Gold Rush era in Melbourne. It is this change in locations where the story picks up intrigue when Gask meets Errol Rait. Both these characters are drawn into Mary Mitchell’s mysterious case of inheritance theft, revealing the malicious and cunning plot of Icarus Chiles murdering his business partners and swindling Mary of her Uncle’s inheritance. Cairns perceptively chooses the Scottish Highlands and Melbourne as locations isolated from communication, where characters can hide or reinvent their identity. Mary is safe from the schemes of Chiles, but when he arrives in Melbourne to seek an opportunity to expand his fortune and escape the fate of his crimes. He walks into a trap of his own making. This shift in location makes Melbourne ideal for the novel’s dark and intense climax.
Furthermore, the growing romance between Findo and Mary is another driving force in the importance of the investigation and bringing Chiles to justice, as Gask does all he can to protect Mary from danger. Cairns skilfully differentiates both Rait and Gask’s reactions and motivations. Gask’s actions are motivated as a reaction to emotion, while Rait is methodical, cunning and patient, providing the perfect protagonist to capture Chiles in the most incriminating way through a series of cat and mouse style schemes.
Cairns cleverly blends historical context, mystery and action into a Sherlock Holmes-esque story that leaves the reader striving for justice, with the twist and turns keeping the reader on the edge of their seat inching closer to justice. Cairns orchestrates plot twists that run circles around Gask, Rait and their police officer accomplices culminating in the satisfying retrieval of Mary’s inheritance. The attention to detail to locations, historical context and character development draws the reader into a world of dark manipulation, greed and action that continues to leave the reader second-guessing every move and plan.
The Case of Emigrant Niece by David Cairns is out now.
Amy Chandler is an Assistant Editor at Aspects of History.