The Burry Man’s Day by Catriona McPherson

This is the second book in the Dandy Gilver series and so far I think it’s my favourite, I don’t know how much I’ve been influenced by knowing the setting fairly well, it’s always a plus as far as I’m concerned when I can easily imagine exactly where I am location-wise in a book. Apart from that I do like Catriona McPherson’s writing, she’s particularly good with different dialects which can be really difficult to get right.

It’s August 1923 and the setting is in and around South Queensferry. The small town has an annual Ferry Fair and the Burry Man plays a big part in it. He’s a bit of a hangover from pagan days I suppose but it’s all a bit of a mystery, you can read about the 2012 Burryman here. And here is a photo of him with his two helpers. This all takes place on the second Friday of August, I’ve marked it down on my calendar – see you at South Queensferry – and on the Saturday too.
Burry man in South Queensferry

If you want to see what South Queensferry looks like have a look at a previous post here.

Back to the book. Not everyone in Queensferry is enamoured of the Burry Man, the various religious ministers/priest aren’t keen on him and the Turnbulls – who are the local temperance, all alcohol is evil, tee-total fanatics are dead against him, because part of the Burry Man’s duties is to go around the town being treated to whisky from everyone.

Robert Dudgeon has been the Burry Man for 25 years but for some reason he doesn’t want to play the part again, although he won’t say why. At the last minute he changes his mind but the day ends in trgedy as the Burry Man drops down dead. Is it natural causes or has he been poisoned?

When all this occurs, Dandy happens to be staying at Cassilis Castle which is actually a fictional place, supposedly somewhere over Dalmeny way, and is owned by her old schoolfriend Buttercup and her American husband Cadwallader. Cad asks Dandy to investigate, which of course she does, with the help of Alec.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery which had me puzzled to the end, a good comfort read. It occurred to me that McPherson deals with Dandy’s husband and family in exactly the same way that children’s authors always have done with parents – that is, she gets rid of them very early on in the story. Just thought I’d mention it. I’m looking forward to reading more of this series.

After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson

This is the first Dandy Gilver mystery and it was published in 2005. I had previously read the fourth in the series, The Winter Ground, which I liked enough to want to start the series from the beginning.

I enjoyed After the Armistice Ball even more than I thought I would, for one thing it was nice to discover how the upper-class Dandy and her sidekick Alec got together as a couple of amateur sleuths. Alec is also well-heeled but hails from Dorset, he is due to get married to Cara Duffy who comes from Edinburgh and Perthshire. The Duffy family diamonds have apparently gone missing, thought to have been stolen from Croys, a large house near Kingussie which belongs to the Esslemonts. It’s now 1922 and since the end of the Great War there has been an annual Armistice Ball at Croys and Lena Duffy is going around telling everyone that the diamonds must have been replaced by paste during her visit to Croys.

Daisy Esslemont asks her friend Dandy Gilver to investigate the whole thing, which involves blackmail and subsequently murder, or was it suicide? On the whole I found this book to be really entertaining, it might have been improved with a bit less travelling backward and forward to Galloway, but it has a good feel of the period and I found Dandy and Alec to be likeable and realistic characters. Dandy has a nice line in sarcastic wit.

The Winter Ground by Catriona McPherson

I’ve got into the horrible habit recently of reading books all out of order and I had intended waiting until I had the first Dandy Gilver book which I have on request at the library, but in the end I started reading this one, just to get a flavour of it, and just kept going.

The setting is Perthshire, Scotland and it’s 1925. Dandelion Dahlia Gilver, to give her her full title, shouldn’t really be all that likeable because she’s a woman who isn’t keen on heathery moors, isn’t really all that enamoured with her two small boys or her husband for that matter and is a bit upper class and English! But somehow she overcomes all of those disadvantages and is a likeable character.

The other disadvantage of this book, for me anyway, is the fact that it’s about strange goings on at the winter camp of a circus. That put me off a bit because things like that always remind me of Scoobie-Doo! Plus, I’ve always disliked circuses, even as a child I didn’t like performing animals, and clowns are the stuff of nightmares. So given all that, I really should have hated the book, but I didn’t.

Dandy writes to her sidekick Alec, asking him to come and help her investigate the circus which is camped out on land which is owned by her new neighbours, Ina and Albert Wilson, the owners of Benachally Castle. Albert Wilson has invited the circus performers so that Ina can be entertained by them. Ina is wrapped in cotton wool by Albert and more or less a prisoner in her own castle. Albert is trying to keep her safe from germs since their child died in the flu epidemic which hit Europe just after World War I.

That all sounds quite heavy but this is an enjoyable, witty and well-written read. As usual, I’m not saying too much about it all, for fear of spoiling it for other potential readers. Dandy has a Dalmatian dog called Bunty, I mention this just because I do like dogs in books, in fact they’re the perfect kind, no hairs and cleaning up required.

The blurb says that Catriona McPherson has a Ph.D in Linguistics and she uses a lot of words which are presumably authentic to the circus fraternity. I hope they are anyway, and weren’t just manufactured by McPherson.

There’s quite a lot of praise for the Dandy Gilver series on the back of the book but I’ll just give you the one from the Guardian:

‘Dan Brown meets Barbara Pym ….Dandy is brisk, baffled, heroic, kindly, scandalised and – above all – very funny.’

I’ve never read anything by Dan Brown, but I have read quite a few Barbara Pym books. This is quite different I would say, but maybe they meant the quality of the writing.

Some Progress

I’ve been spending my time inadvertently sniffing the fumes from paint and varnish pots during the last couple of days. Actually I’ve been painting the vestibule, magnolia of course, keeping it neutral as we’re advised, the emulsion paint doesn’t smell nearly as bad as it used to mind you. After that I scrubbed the floor tiles and I don’t think they’ve ever looked cleaner in all the 25 years that we’ve lived here. Things are so quiet in the housing market at the moment though, I won’t be at all surprised if nobody turns up to view my hard work, when we do put our house up for sale!

The varnish was worse, smell wise anyway but it did actually do what it said on the tin and was touch dry in two hours, which is just as well because it was the staircase that I was varnishing, and even although I knew I wouldn’t be able to go upstairs once I started on them and planned ahead to take books and things downstairs, there were several times when I wanted soemthing which was up there and I just had to do without. But I’m pleased with the outcome, the stairs are looking a lot better now.

So I feel that I’m making progress again after being at a standstill over the winter. ‘Stuff’ has been recycled or binned – again. Why do I hold on to things like split boots instead of just chucking them immediately? I did actually try to get my 35 year old red wellies on, but my legs have thickened over all those years. I’ve definitely not worn them since we moved here, they’ve just taken up space in the cupboard as they perished.

But I did get quite a lot of reading done today too. I decided just to start the Catriona McPherson book – The Winter Ground. I had intended waiting until I got the first of the Dandy Gilver books, so that I could read them in the correct order, but I read a bit of it then just kept reading, which is surprising really as the book setting is the Perthshire winter camp of a travelling circus. I can’t stand circuses, I even hated them as a child, but strangely, I’m enjoying the book.

Library Books

My local library is out of action at the moment as it’s in the middle of major refurbishment. So for the last 15 months or so we’ve had to put up with a tiny library which they have opened in one of the many empty shops in the High Street, it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing I suppose. But over the last week I’ve managed to visit two bigger libraries in different Fife towns and the selection was better, so I ended up borrowing:

Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Death at the Opera by Gladys Mitchell
The Winter Ground by Catriona McPherson
Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

I think all of these books or authors have been recommended by other bloggers or commenters, which leads me to wonder how I chose my reading matter before the internet. I’m sure it was Margaret@BooksPlease who pointed me in the direction of Catriona McPherson and Andrew Taylor, but I’ve kicked off with Miss Buncle Married as I enjoyed Miss Buncle’s Book so much.

I also have five books on request so I’ll have to get down to more reading, just at the time when I’m also trying to buff my house and garden up. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

South Queensferry, Scotland

We travelled over the Forth Road Bridge to South Queensferry last Saturday, well the football had been cancelled due to hard frost.

You can’t go to South Queensferry and not take some photos of the Forth Bridge, so here they are!
The Forth Bridge approach

The Forth Bridge

The Hawes Inn appears in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Kidnapped. As you can see the approach to the bridge is more or less straight above the inn but of course the bridge wasn’t there at the time that Robert Louis Stevenson was writing about.

Hawes Inn, South Queensferry

The photo below is of the main street in South Queensferry, I think it’s quite unusual to have a two tiered street with a pavement and houses being situated over the top of the shops.

South Queensferry

South Queensferry

This vintage car came tootling along just as I was taking the photos, it was like something that Toad out of The Wind in the Willows might have driven. They must have been freezing! I wouldn’t mind going for a drive in it on a hot day though.

A vintage car

As you can see, they have some olde worlde streetlamps in South Queensferry which fit in nicely with the age of the buildings. Even although it was a cold day it was still busy with locals and day trippers, there are quite a few eateries in the town and I think it’s a favourite place for people living in Edinburgh to visit.

South Queensferry

Some of the buildings are really quite ancient, as you can see the date on this pub is 1683.

The Ferry Tap

This photo below is of Jack (husband) eyeing up one of the boats which has been lifted out of the harbour but I don’t think he’ll be taking up sailing.

The Forth Bridge

This is one end of the town from the harbour. It’s a nice wee place to have a bit of a stroll around.

South Queensferry from harbour

It was reading Margaret of Books Please review of a Catriona McPherson book which is set there which made me think it was about time we had another look at South Queensferry. The last time we were there was during the summer when we took a trip on one of the boats which sails regularly to the island of Inchcolm. It’s a good day out, when the weather’s fair. You really wouldn’t want to be stuck out on an island in the middle of the Forth if there was the chance of a howling gale and rain blowing up. You can have a look at my Inchcolm post here.