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Book Club Kits: A Small Death in the Great Glen

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

Both probing character study and a driving novel of suspense, here is a novel that will linger in your mind like mist over the Scottish glens . . .

In the Highlands of 1950s Scotland, a boy is found dead in a canal lock. Two young girls tell such a fanciful story of his disappearance that no one believes them. The local newspaper staff—including Joanne Ross, the part-time typist embroiled in an abusive marriage, and her boss, a seasoned journalist determined to revamp the paper—set out to uncover and investigate the crime. Suspicion falls on several townspeople, all of whom profess their innocence. Alongside these characters are the people of the town and neighboring glens; a refugee Polish sailor; an Italian family whose café boasts the first known cappuccino machine in the north of Scotland; and a corrupt town clerk subverting the planning laws to line his own pocket.

Together, these very different Scots harbor deep and troubling secrets underneath their polished and respectable veneers—revelations that may prevent the crime from being solved and may keep the town firmly in the clutches of its shadowy past.

Discussion Questions

  • John McAllister joins the Highland Gazette staff looking to make a change, but veteran editor Don McLeod initially refuses to go against age-old tradition. By the end of the book, Don begins to come around to McAllister’s ideas. How else does the theme of “change” triumphing over “tradition” play out in the novel?

  • Though the battles are over, the war continues to touch the lives of A. D. Scott’s characters. Select a few of the main characters and discuss the lasting effects of the war on each. Have any of the characters been impacted by the war in similar ways?

  • “I’m not his possession. I think what I like.” While Chiara clearly rejects the notion of a woman belonging to a man, Joanne finds herself hard-pressed to escape Bill’s grasp—and fist. What steps does Joanne take, physically and emotionally, toward reclaiming herself from her possessive husband?

  • Joanne repeatedly claims that she will not leave Bill for the sake of her daughters. “I must stay. For their sakes.” Discuss Joanne’s thought process in this regard. How does her staying with Bill affect the children positively? Negatively?

  • Peter Kowalski, a Polish escapee himself, never hesitates to help a fellow countryman—even if it means putting himself and the Corelli family at risk. Is he right in doing so? Why do you think he keeps these encounters a secret from Chiara, his future wife?

  • When Karel “Karl” Cieszynski nearly fails in his self-proclaimed “mission” to bring the crucifix to Scotland, he is saddened beyond words. Why is it so important that the crucifix reaches Peter? What does this piece of jewelry represent?

  • The people of the town appear relieved when Karl is arrested for Jamie’s murder. However, few seem to question whether or not he actually committed the crime—including Joanne. Discuss why the townspeople are so eager to sweep the whole thing under the carpet. What are they trying to achieve?

  • Discuss Wee Jean’s relationship with Grandad Ross. Why does Granddad Ross have such a soft spot in his heart for his youngest granddaughter?

  • Joanne and WPC Ann McPherson are examples of women who attempt to succeed in the workplace despite the many obstacles they encounter. If the two of them sat down in Gino’s café for a cappuccino and a chat, what might their conversation sound like?

  • While blackmailing Councilor Grieg in his office, Joanne suddenly pushes for Grieg to acknowledge his daughter with Mhairi, even if only in private. Why do you think she does this?

  • Why does Annie ultimately decide to tell the truth? Do you think she fully realizes the implications of what she saw?

  • Is it a reporter’s duty to print the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Consider the information the staff members withhold from the paper; are their reasons for doing so valid?

  • Does McAllister’s personal agenda against Father Morrison hinder or help his ability to perform his duty as a reporter? In the end, which is more important to him: avenging his brother’s death or getting the story straight?

  • Do Inspector Thompson or Father Morrison show any signs of remorse for their actions in the novel, or in their pasts?

  • “We know evil exists. I try not to see it, but it is there, in big and small ways. And always balanced by good.” Mrs. McLean’s words demonstrate her eternal optimism, even after having lived through two wars and their aftermath. How do other characters in the book demonstrate optimism for the future? Have any characters completely lost all sense of hope?