These characters were just too dumb to hate. I didn't give a shit about them or their weak-ass romances or the lame, obvious solution to the "mystery" that everyone else in the
keep (there seem to only be like 20 people living here for Duncan to be lord of, which is lucky because he's a dim-bulb) has been studiously ignoring for years because solving it just made things awkward for everyone. Those medieval Scots, so c'est la vie
with their public undressing and seducing of teenagers and dismissal of serial murders. Oh well! These things happen! Why look for trouble?
I felt like I should feel sorry for Evelinde, who aside from some good kilt-lovin' has a pretty horrific life. Her dad dies and she's left to be abused by horrible stepmother, who hates her for no reason. She gets married off to a guy she expects to be cruel. She falls! Out of trees, off horses, into streams, down stairs, in the path of bulls. Evelinde spends the whole book black-and-blue. Poor klutz. Her husband, while actually kindly and good in bed, is emotionally deaf and can't fathom obvious-to-the-village-idiot type ideas like how a person might want a change of clothes when moving to a new home or that maybe you should stick around to introduce your new wife to your family. Or talk to her, ever.
But in fact, I only ever felt a slight cringing pity for her during scenes like the one where her new neighbors show up for an unannounced inspection of her right after she gets her gown torn open by a bull her husband was baiting (nice, right?) and then has her husband drag her around by the back of her dress like a naughty child being humiliated by old-fashioned parents. I couldn't really feel for her because 1) see paragraph one, and 2) the author continually undermined any emotional pathos with slapstick humor. I never managed to decide whether Sands was meaning to be funny or not, but her characters' constant pratfalls into streams and over fences certainly distracted from any potential emotional engagement.
The only person I genuinely felt sorry for was Maggie, Duncan's dead first wife. She was in love with a man who merely tolerated her and hardly cared when she died. And she died quite young, murdered by someone she trusted. Her death is merely a plot device; if not for its relationship to other murders no one would even bother to investigate it. But we're not supposed to care about Maggie. Apparently, Duncan's neglectful treatment of his first wife isn't supposed to reflect badly on him. Because he's a man! And men don't get the "feeling" stuff, or converse (except with each other, about manly thing like horses and hunting). Only men who are Vile Seducers make small talk with women.
This wasn't a good mystery, and it shocks me that Sands appears to be a successful romance writer. While I've read more offensive and worse written romances, this really lacked an emotional register. I won't even get into how inauthentic her "medieval Scotland" is or how people didn't wear kilts till the 16th century...