A Flute in Mayferry Street by Eileen Dunlop

A Flute in Mayferry Street by Scottish author Eileen Dunlop was first published in 1976.

Marion and Colin Ramsay live with their mother in a Georgian house in Edinburgh’s New Town, their father is dead and life is difficult, there’s never enough money.  The house they live in has been in the Ramsay family for generations and their mother doesn’t really know too much about the history of the house. Everything in the house had belonged originally to the previous Ramsays.  Marion has left school, she had an accident and damaged her spine and is now paralysed. The doctors had been hopeful that given time her damaged nerves would mend, but it has been a few years now and she’s giving up hope and is sinking into a depression.  She has also become scared of being in the house on her own as she keeps hearing someone playing what sounds like a flute – in the empty house. She won’t go out in her wheelchair and her only friends are the lodgers, a young couple whose rent helps with the family budget.

The housework is proving to be never ending for Mrs Ramsay and she asks Colin to dust and sort through the books in the bookcase, it’s full of things that have just been stuck on the shelves too, and shouldn’t be there. Marion helps too and that’s when she finds an intersting letter dated 1914.  This leads to a bit of a treasure hunt although they don’t know what they’re looking for.  Marion is interested in life again.

The blurb on the back says:

A Flute in Mayferry Street has all the ingredients of a classic ghost story, mixed with the harsh realities of a life set apart, and its implications for those around. An inspiring tale of the magic of dreams and the power of the supernatural.

I really enjoyed it.


The High House by Honor Arundel

The High House by Honor Arundel was published in 1967 and I suppose it was aimed at young teenage girls. Although Arundel was born in Wales she married a Scot and set a lot of her books in Scotland. In The High House she wastes absolutely no time in getting rid of those pesky parents, as all good children’s authors do. At the beginning we’re told that the parents have been killed in a car crash. Their children Emma and Richard have never even met their Aunt Patsy before as she lives in London and they live in Edinburgh. Then Aunt Laura and Uncle Edward arrive from Exeter. The aunts are very different from each other.

The children are given the option of splitting up and staying with an aunt each or being put into a ‘home’ together. They can’t bear the thought of an orphanage. Emma plumps for Aunt Patsy and moves to Edinburgh. Patsy is very artistic and is a freelance designer. It’s not long before Emma thinks she has chosen the wrong aunt. Patsy is very untidy and disorganised, money is always a problem, it’s feast or famine as Patsy is always waiting for payment on her latest project. But the letters that Emma gets from her brother Richard make it clear that he’s not enjoying life at all with Aunt Laura  who has a boring son that he has nothing in common with, and she’s the opposite from Patsy, too tidy and controlling.

When Emma starts school in Edinburgh she decides not to tell anyone about her parents, she can’t stand the thought of everyone being sorry for her. It’s a very different atmosphere from her school in England. She’s horrified when she realises that the pupils can get the belt (tawse) from the teachers as a punishment. When Emma stands up for another girl who has been belted by the maths teacher it leads to a change for the better in the relationship between aunt and niece.

This was a very quick read at just 124 pages but it’s enjoyable and as it’s over 50 years old it’s a piece of social history now. Kids don’t get the belt in Scottish schools nowadays for one thing.



In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson – 20 Books of Summer 2023

In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson is set in Edinburgh in 1948. The National Health Service is just being set up and Helen Crowther has got a job as a medical almoner, akin to a social worker nowadays, attached to two local doctors’ surgery. Previously the work had been done by a sort of ‘lady bountiful’ type of woman who had been doing the work voluntarily, and she had trained up Helen to help her.  Helen has trouble making people believe that they won’t have to pay for visits to the doctor as the idea of the NHS seems too good to be true to them, but as she has been brought up in similar circumstances to her clients she’s more in tune with their problems.

When Helen and her husband get the chance to move into a home of their own they’re ecstatic.  Helen hopes that not sharing cramped accommodation with her parents and sister will mean that things will now be different in their marriage, her husband isn’t interested in her and her mother is champing at the bit to be a grandmother.

When Helen stumbles across a body she’s sure she knows who the victim is, but she’s perplexed when the investigation doesn’t proceed the way she thinks it should. There’s a lot going on in the secretive life of some of Edinburgh’s more prominent citizens and Helen needs to untangle it all. This was a really good read. This is one of my 20 Books of Summer reads.



Fate and Fortune by Shirley McKay

Fate and Fortune by Shirley McKay is the second book in her Hew Cullan murder mystery series.

The book begins in the year 1581 in St Andrews and the young Scottish lawyer Hew Cullan has arrived there too late, his father is already dead. Hew is now the owner of the family home, his father had also left a manuscript which Hew is to have published. Edinburgh is calling Hew and indeed unknown to him he has been apprenticed to Richard Cunningham, a well known advocate, but Hew isn’t keen on continuing his career in law. However, when a young fisherwoman is found dead on the beach, with obvious signs of having been raped, Hew is appalled by the attitude of those who should be seeking the culprit. The death of the young girl was apparently of no interest to them, she was of no importance. Hew thinks differently.

But Edinburgh beckons and after a long and eventful journey astride his ‘characterful’ horse Dun Scottis, along the coast to catch a ferry to Edinburgh Hew finds himself in desperate peril. For the first time in his life he realises that he has always been sheltered by the clothes that he wears as his life falls apart when he has to wear the old clothes of a fisherman and he no longer has the automatic respect of those in any kind of authority.

Eventually Hew manages to make his way to the publisher that his father wanted to publish his book. It is run by a young widow determined to keep the business going,

I enjoyed this one even more than the first book in this series – Hue and Cry – so I’m looking forward to reading the next one soonish.

The Sign of the Black Dagger by Joan Lingard

THe Sign of the Black Dagger by Joan Lingard was first published in 2005. I borrowed this one from the library as when Lingard died recently I realised that I haven’t read many of her books and I should rectify that as she was a Scot. Typically the local library system doesn’t have many books available to borrow as in Fife the people who run the libraries (they aren’t librarians) corrall all the books by locals in their reserve stock – and they don’t let anyone borrow them!

Anyway, back to the book. The setting is Edinburgh where Will and Lucy, a young brother and sister live in a very old house in the Royal Mile which has been in the family for generations. Their father disappears suddenly and they discover that there are people after him. Their mother discovers that he has money problems, which he has been hiding from everyone, he has never been a good businessman.

While searching the house Will and Lucy discover an old journal secreted in a hole in a wall. It has been written by another William and Louisa/Lucy, ancestors of theirs, and their father has had similar problems. Both men are being pursued by men determined to get the money that they’re owed.

The experiences of both related families, with about two hundred years in between them, feature the children mainly, with the mothers in the background having had no idea that their family life was in danger.

I enjoyed this one, it was interesting to see how the authorities dealt with those in debt two hundred years ago in Edinburgh, and as ever I like it when I know the setting well, as I do, but there is a useful map if you don’t know Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig

Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig is a great read. The setting is mainly Edinburgh or as it is written ‘Embra’ and St Andrews in Fife. It begins in 1574, the hardline Calvinist John Knox is dead and the woman that he despised, the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots has left Scotland, but it’s feared (or hoped depending on which side you are on) that she will be back with a French army to help her.

William Fowler lives with his parents in Anchor Close, Edinburgh, but his father is killed in the close when he goes out to see what all the noise in the street is about. It doesn’t change the plans for William though, he is sent to St Andrews University, while his mother takes over the running of the family business – moneylending. William discovered that he could help her by putting some business her way. St Andrews Cathedral is already a ruin after John Knox and his followers had wrecked the place years before. What had been a well-off Catholic institution, because of the pilgrims that had brought money into the place in the past is now a poverty-stricken small town with teachers being almost as poor as the students, the locals are mainly involved in the fishing industry, and it’s a fishing family that Rose Nicolson belongs to.

William had seen her when she was busy mending fishing nets and had completely fallen for her, it turns out that she’s his best friend’s sister, and like his own family the parents had had religious differences.

Will’s mother is involved in a plot to have the Catholic religion reinstated. The Scottish Reformation has introduced a much more unforgiving version of Christianity and there are those that think that it was much more fun when you could sin and then confess and be forgiven. There’s no such fun with Knox and Calvinism, where just about everything leads to hellfire!

Anyway, this is a great read, the locations are all so well-known to me and that always adds to the experience. I intend to take some photos of some of the locations, including the martyr locations in St Andrews which have their initials on the ground where they were burnt. Meanwhile you can see some photos of Anchor Close here.

This book’s plot didn’t go the way I had expected it to, there was a good twist at the end which I did half guess, but I really enjoyed the character of Walter Scott, who was an ancestor of Sir Walter Scott the author, he was apparently very proud of being a descendent of this Border reiver. Scott would have loved this book, as I did.

Jack read it after I did and if you want to read his much more detailed review and thoughts you can have a look at it here.

The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley

The Vanished Days cover

The Vanished Days by the Canadian author Susanna Kearsley is a prequel to her book The Winter Sea which I haven’t read, but I think this one can quite happily be read as a standalone. The setting is mainly Edinburgh 1707, the Union of Scotland and England, something which most ordinary Scots didn’t agree with but the ‘aristocracy’ sold the country for their own gain, so there’s discontent in the country. The tale loops back to the 1690s from time to time, and the disastrous Darien Venture which more or less bankrupted the country and led to the union with England. It’s suspected that the whole thing was an English plot. It was such a nice change to be reading about a different part of Scottish history as most authors stick to writing about the 1745 ‘Rebellion’, as if nothing else of significance ever happened in Scotland. Rebellion is in the air though with rumours of the French standing by to invade and help the Stewart King James III to regain the throne from the Dutch usurper King William.

Part of the settlement for the union is that England will provide money to pay off debts incurred because of the Darien scheme, including payments to the dependents of those who had lost their lives in Jamaica. Lily Aitcheson (Graeme) comes forward to claim her late husband’s wages, and Adam Williamson a former soldier has the job of investigating her claim, it’s suspected that she wasn’t actually married to her husband. But Adam is attracted to Lily and becomes embroiled in her life. There are lots of surprises along the way. This is not the sort of book that you could call a light read, but I loved it.

I was sent a digital copy of this book for review by Simon and Schuster via Netgalley.

The Black Book by Ian Rankin

 The Black Book cover

The Black Book by the Scottish author Ian Rankin is the fifth book in his Inspector John Rebus series. The setting is mainly Edinburgh but moves across the Firth of Forth to Fife from time to time as so often happens in this series. Rebus and Rankin both hail from Fife originally. It was first published in 1993 and it’s the first in the Rebus series which features his side-kick Detective Constable Siobhan Clarke. She’s a great character and really much smarter than Rebus, but he has the experience and local knowledge.

Rebus has moved in with Patience his girlfriend, she’s a doctor and is beginning to be impatient of his long working hours and broken promises. The writing seems to be on the wall for that relationship. To complicate matters Rebus’ younger brother Michael turns up – straight from jail.

Crime wise there’s an awful lot going on in this book, but Rebus is mainly focusing on a cold case. Five years earlier the Central Hotel in Edinburgh had burned down and a charred body was found in the ruins. They never did find out the identity of the body, but the hotel had been a bit of a den of iniquity, headquarters for all sorts of low life, including the biggest and most evil gangster in Edinburgh.

There’s violence but also plenty of humour and smart patter, so this was a really entertaining read. As the book is now 27 years old I suppose this can be seen as vintage crime now, it certainly often feels like that.

The Peppermint Tea Chronicles by Alexander McCall Smith

 The Peppermint Tea Chronicles cover

The Peppermint Tea Chronicles by Alexander McCall Smith was published in 2019 and it’s the latest in the 44 Scotland Street series.

This was an enjoyable read, perfect really for bedtime reading as the chapters are very short so if you suddenly get tired it isn’t far to the end of the chapter.

At the end of the last book the ghastly Irene decided to do a PhD at Aberdeen University, leaving her husband Stuart to look after their son Bertie and Ulysses who isn’t Stuart’s son, although Irene doesn’t know that we all know that! Everyone is glad to see the back of her. It’s obvious to Stuart that Irene will be continuing her relationship with the fellow psychologist and father of Ulysses in Aberdeen, so he feels that it’s the end of the marriage, even although Irene seems to think that Stuart is still very much hers to use and abuse. Will he have the guts to break free completely?

Bertie’s life has become more varied as his mother isn’t there to plan out all of his waking hours with psychology appointments and things he doesn’t want to do.

Big Lou, owner of the coffee shop discovers that having a child in her life has very much complicated matters.

Elspeth’s life out in the sticks, with a beautiful house and no money worries looks idyllic, but she’s bored stiff. I would tell her that she should try looking after her triplets herself, but I doubt if that would appeal to her!

Anyway, these books are humorous but also feature small ethical dilemmas. Not all of the characters work well for me, but probably everyone has their own favourites and might be different from mine. For me as ever it was pleasant to be in Edinburgh and the surroundings again, at a time when I haven’t been allowed to travel the 30 miles into the city from my place.

The Glorious Thing by Christine Orr

The Glorious Thing cover

The Glorious Thing by Christine Orr was first published in 1919 but was re-published by Merchiston Publishing in 2013. I must admit that I had never even heard of Christine Orr until I visited the Writers Museum in Edinburgh earlier this year. The museum is mainly dedicated to R.L. Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott but there are some mentions of other Scottish authors such as Muriel Spark and Christine Orr, there is a small display case featuring some of her books. I’m quite ashamed that I had never heard of her, she apparently wrote 18 novels, was also a poet, theatre director, became head of the BBC’s Children’s Hour in 1936 and was instrumental in founding the Edinburgh Festival. Sadly it looks like this book is the only one which has been reprinted so I don’t think it will be very easy to collect the other 17 novels. Although The Glorious Thing is described as being a war novel, it’s really mainly from the Home Front within an Edinburgh family.

David Grant is back home in Castlerig not far from Edinburgh. He had spent two years in the trenches before he received a wound to his spine which led to a time in hospital that he found even more horrific than life in the trenches. But he isn’t happy, he feels weak, has trouble walking, his nerves are shattered and he feels depressed despite the fact that there’s a job waiting for him as a junior partner in his uncle’s law firm, and he has no money worries.

While visiting an art gallery with his sister Minnie, David’s attention is drawn to a young untidy woman, it’s her laugh that attracts him and later on he meets up with her and her large family of sisters. They are all living with their uncle as their parents are dead and I had to feel sorry for the man as the sisters are a fairly argumentative lot.

This is a very good read which focuses on the changing roles of women, politics, social history, atheism (very unusual for this time I think), religion and of course romance with quite a bit of humour too. There are some darling children – was there some sort of unwritten rule that Scottish female writers of the time had to conjure up cuties?

I really hope that in the future some more of Christine Orr’s books will be published. This one was published by Edinburgh Napier University and the proceeds supported Poppyscotland and Scottish Veterans Residences.

The back blurb says: ‘This book is a revealing snapshot of ordinary Edinburgh lives during an extraordinary time.’