Dolly Cutag


A dark, gripping tale of damaged lives, bloody revenge, and the search for justice. 

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 The swipe of the blade

The stillness of death

The sweet reward

In 1880, two young people five hundred miles apart seek escape from impoverished and abusive homes.

Dolly MacMillan, brutalised from a young age, grows up to become a herring girl on the Isle of Lewis, and begins to take deadly revenge on people who have crossed her. Meanwhile, in the Yorkshire mill town of Bradford, Robert Wroke seeks escape from a home destroyed by family loss and violence. Beginning his journey in search of a new life in London, he witnesses a terrifying murder, and the course of his life is radically changed. As Dolly leaves a trail of blood across the quaysides of northern Scotland, all the way to London and Billingsgate, Robert takes a different path. In 1888, one killer and one detective are set on course for confrontation - two lives destined to meet in Whitechapel, where Jack the Ripper stalks the streets. 

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ULLAPOOL NEWS 26 March 2021 

Book Review 

Dolly Cutag by Di Reed 

Wow! What a remarkable novel from Lewis author Di Reed. Three very short but gripping opening chapters - and you're hooked. A young girl on Lewis faces cruel psychological stress and your heart goes out to her. A hauntingly atmospheric murder scene unfolds at Pairc near Stornoway, just after the famous crofters' raid of 1887. A once-handsome young man, lately ravaged by smallpox, ponders his changed life. How on earth will these people and these events be tied together? You just have to read on! 

The first chapters centre on young Dolly MacMillan, her harsh upbringing on a croft and her early working life as a herring gutter. The descriptions of the quaysides of Stornoway and later Peterhead are memorable. Then, a change of scene to 1880s Bradford as a young mill-boy, Robert Wroke, also in a harsh childhood, reacts instinctively against its injustices. The setting for most of the novel is London, to which Dolly and Robert both gravitate. Life in the Victorian capital is vividly described but the key appeal is that we are seeing it - warts and all - through the eyes of two troubled but driven outsiders: the Lewis girl and the Yorkshire lad. Will their paths cross? 

The novel is very dark and its most graphic scenes will linger in the mind for a long time, but it tackles profound themes: young people with the odds stacked against them, the longing for justice, the role of the police. The author's breadth of research into the historical background is amazing. Life could be hideously cheap in the 1880s. When the subject of baby farming comes up, the first thought is 'surely that never happened', but a search of the internet reveals that, tragically, it did. 

The author conjures up convincing characters through their dialogue, and we share their fears and hopes. Dolly and her cutag (gutting-knife) - and her lethal skill with it - are unforgettable. You wonder now and again if the characters will become implausible, or will the plot falter, but no. The story races along, as the author shifts between places and characters. Her descriptive writing is excellent, full of imagination and originality. 

There is humour but of the blackest kind, some of it to do with Victorian sweets.This reader will never think of Fisherman's Friends or gobstoppers in the same way again. 

A dark story, and yet perhaps it does chime with our difficult times today and addresses questions that resonate now. Oh, and the ending. How the hairs stood up on the back of my neck! A great, page-turning read from start to finish.