Evie Wyld is exceptionally good at the gruesome. Within the first few pages of this, her bewitching third novel, we encounter the painted fingernails of a corpse’s hand peeking out from a burst suitcase and a huge and stinking beached shark, ‘its gills loose and intimately fleshy’. Both are found on the same stretch of sand, across from the Bass Rock, an island in the Firth of Forth. Craigie Aitchison’s painting of this landmark depicts it as something serene and beautiful, but in Wyld’s hands it is full of menace, ‘like the head of a dreadfully handicapped child’. Here, the town of North Berwick has a very dark past indeed. An annual winter picnic for the locals is the stuff of nightmares: women in weird, semi-medieval costumes hide in the dunes, to be found by masked men, whose prize is to half-rape them. The local vicar colludes with the authorities in a boarding school where boys are abused and conspires to have a troubled young woman lobotomised. A sadist shuts a half-naked girl in a wardrobe (he leaves the door unlocked, but she is too afraid to come out). Even a bonfire seems demonic. If you were planning a golfing holiday there, you might not want to take this book with you.
None of the horrors outlined above are central to the plot of The Bass Rock. But all this wickedness and death comes to haunt the central characters. Most are paralysed by the knowledge of what has taken place. Others, though, are able to forge a new kind of