Ahhhhhh, Scotland, land of intrigue, betrayal, murder and an ancient struggle with "the auld enemy, the English." In UNMARKED GRAVE, history lives in the McBrier and Lloyd families whose castles date back to 1295.
Their age-old feud erupts again with Bruce McBrier's discovery of a skull he believes belonged to his long missing ancestor, Sir William, who would have been the fourth Lord of Venwell. The neighboring castle belongs to the Lloyds, who backed Henry VIII and fought for England. Sir William rode with James IV in defense of Scotland.
Bruce wants Ardis Cole, an archaeologist from Chicago, to authenticate the skull by a facial reconstruction. He's writing a book to indict Sir Wendell, third Lord of Lloyd, as the brutal killer of his ancestor, Sir William. The final chapter of Bruce's book depends on authentication of the skull.
Opening lines:"This is the place where I found the skull," Bruce McBrier said, pointing toward the narrow but deep river that wound through the valley toward the Firth of Tay. "It either washed ashore or was simply uncovered by the recent rains."
On a tour of the castle garden, Bruce tells Ardis that Sir William has returned to keep Venwell from falling into the wrong hands.
"An odd expression appeared on his craggy face that Ardis could not quite interpret. He did not speak for a long time. "Strange things have been happening ever since I found Sir William's skull!"
"Don't tell me. It's a haunted skull," Ardis joked. "And Sir William is trying to get it back."
"Venwell Castle is still filled with sorrow," Bruce said, "just as it was then, centuries ago. And new sorrows attract old sorrows."
There are sorrows aplenty at Venwell Castle. Ardis arrives in Scotland hoping a change of scenery will temper her grief over the death of her fiancé. Bruce's niece Gwynne is pursued by one of the Lloyds who wants to get his hands on Venwell property by marrying her. Gwynne's true love, the tavern keeper's son, has disappeared. Also missing is Bruce's nephew, who left home to get away from his domineering father, the current Lord Venwell. If the wisp of a figure lurking near the garden really is Sir William, his spirit showed up in the right place at the right time.
But Ardis was hired to do a job. She takes her canvas bag of archaeology tools to the river bank to dig for remains and what she finds only adds to the mystery. The result of her facial reconstruction is shocking. Murders, assaults, theft, kidnapping and an old diary - the story is full of twists and turns right up until the end.
I like Ardis Cole. The loss of her fiancé gives her compassion for those who mourn. Her work on dig sites in foreign locales reinforces her fearlessness, which at times makes her foolhardy. If she's in a hurry for a tool or piece of information she will jump in the car and take off down a dark and lonely road. She's lucky there are those who care enough to keep an eye on her.
The title comes from a gravestone Ardis finds when she visits a nearby abbey. Dated 1608, the stone reads: "Good son, brave sailor/Lost at Sea/The world his unmarked grave."