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The Mash House by Alan Gillespie | Book Review

by Georgia-May Drennan

"The villagers had whiskey in their blood"

The events of Alan Gillespie’s debut novel, The Mash House, are centred on an isolated fictional village in the Scottish Highlands. In this place called Cullrothes, the changeable nature of Scottish rural weather is as complex as the characters who live there.

What’s impressive is Gillespie’s rich portrayal of these characters, all of different ages and at different stages of life. Amongst them, there’s a 16 year old girl grappling with the trials and tribulations of teenage life, an old man nearing the end of his life, a middle-aged couple who own the local distillery (and apparently the whole town), an anonymous American investor who goes by the nom de plume of Johnny Coca-Cola (guess what he sells), and finally a young couple who have just moved to Cullrothes.

All of these characters bear the tiresome burden of the village’s secrets — and there are lots. The skilful weaving of narratives enhances the intriguing plot as well as adding depth to the characters’ individual stories.

With the title as a nod to the whisky distillation process, it’s not surprising that this drink features in almost every chapter.

The novel’s tagline promises secrets, death and malt whisky, all of which are delivered. The plot entangles an intricate web of illicit affairs, dodgy deals, manslaughters and murders.

What begins as a missing cat and a missing son soon turns into a long list of crimes, giving you chills that only the smooth burn of whisky could cure.

Alan Gillespie, an emerging author, establishes a distinct authorial tone no doubt inspired by tartan noir. Cullrothes may be a fictional village but readers can expect to be completely transported to this corrupt little place as a result of the powerful descriptive language that appeals to all the senses. What really shines through is that there is a striking presence of the gothic landscapes of old classics such as Dracula, which is an appreciated blend of past and present literature.

A gripping portrayal of power, fear and family ties, Gillespie’s writing is real and raw. Some parts will have you in a state of shock and some parts will have you in tears (if you’re an emotional wreck like me, that is).

The book’s publishers, Unbound, are a crowdfunding publishing company who uses the innovative approach of putting the crowd in control.

The Mash House is to an avid reader what a good malt is to a whisky connoisseur.

My only complaint is that the book finished with Chapter 99 instead of 100, but that’s my own problem.

The Mash House will be released early May 2021, available in all good bookstores and online.


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