Prefects at Springdale by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

 According to Queeney cover

I think I had been looking at Angela Brazil books when this author’s name popped up. I had never heard of her, but was interested to see that her books are mainly set in Scotland. Although Dorita Fairlie Bruce was born in Spain – hence her nickname Dorita – her name was actually Dorothy, she was really Scottish and apparently second only to Angela Brazil in popularity where school stories were concerned. Her books are set in Scotland, I recognised the area as being Ayrshire, the other side of the River Clyde from where I was brought up and quite a bit south. At one point some of the girls go on a jaunt with Dimsie to Arran which is a place I’ve always wanted to visit and intended to do it this year – but we all know what happened to that plan.

I don’t think it was just the setting that led me to enjoy Prefects at Springdale, which was first published in 1936, more than any Angela Brazil books that I’ve read. Somehow the schoolgirls seemed more authentic to me. Unfortunately the books can be quite expensive, there are seven books in this Springdale series and I inadvertently started off with the sixth one. Well, I was amazed to find this book in a pile at an antiques centre, the books are usually really expensive but obviously the seller didn’t rate this author highly as it was priced at £5, I snapped it up.

Anne is preparing to go back to Springdale School, packing her trunk when her sister Peggy tells her that she has received a letter from Diane, also known as Dimsie, a Springdale old girl who is now 23. She’s going to be working there as a temporary games-mistress until a permanent replacement can be found. Peggy is worried about Dimsie and wants Anne to look out for her. It’s going to be a bit of an awkward situation all round as some of the younger girls had rather idolised Dimsie when she was a senior girl.

This was a great read which seemed quite before its time with one of the girls being keen to become an archaeologist and another one being determined to train as a museum curator and luckily they both get a chance to get some hands on experience. There’s a bit of an adventure and a smidgen of romance and this one was an enjoyable trip back in time and place. I also like the rather stylish 1930s design of the book cover.

When I opened this book I discovered that a previous owner had left a wee cache of bits cut out from pop magazines, from the 1970s. I suspect that she wasn’t allowed to stick posters on her bedroom walls so made do with small ‘photos’ cut out. She was a fan of Gilbert O’Sullivan, Rod Stewart, Slade and two mystery chaps that I don’t recognise. I’ll try to take a photo of them and add it here later, maybe someone can enlighten me.

Whose posters did you put on your bedroom wall? I was devoted to Marc Bolan and T.Rex. I’m not even sure if teenage girls still do things like that nowadays.

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson

 The Turning Tidecover

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson was published in 2019, I’m glad that I’ve caught up with this series which should be read in the correct order if possible. Dandy’s family has just expanded by two as her daughter-in-law has given birth to twins.

The setting is the summer of 1936 and on the east coast of Scotland Dandy is feeling no need to shed her cardigan as there’s a keen wind, as usual! Dandy and Alec have been asked to investigate goings on at the Cramond Ferry. It doesn’t sound like their sort of thing and initially they decline to take the case on, then refuse the second plea, when the third request came along things at Cramond had deteriorated and they decided to take the case on. Apparently the ferrywoman’s behaviour was now so strange that she was refusing to ferry anyone out to the small tidal island in the middle of the Firth of Forth. There has been a tragic accident, the body of a young man has been fished out of the river and Dandy realises that she knows his family. When Dandy and Alec arrive at Cramond island the ferrywoman who goes by the name of Vesper Kemp is raving, filthy and is naked from the waist up. Alec doesn’t know where to look! Vesper claims she murdered the young man.

Various Cramond residents including the local minister don’t believe that Vesper is guilty, surely it was just an accident, but there’s no doubting that there are strange things going on in the small community. Dandy and Alec are the ones to get to the bottom of it all, assisted by Grant, Dandy’s maid who now sees herself as a key component of any investigation.

This was a good read and for me the fact that I know the settings of Cramond and Edinburgh so well added to the enjoyment. You can see images of Cramond here. However the tidal island off Cramond whih is featured in this book sounds much bigger than the actual island.

A Step So Grave by Catriona McPherson – Readers Imbibing Peril XV

A Step So Grave

A Step So Grave by Catriona McPherson was first published in 2018 and it’s the 13th book in her Dandy Gilvers series.

It’s 1935 and Dandy is crossing from the beautiful Scottish Highland village of Plockton to Applecross Bay, Wester Ross, in a small boat. She had expected it to be a smooth jaunt but the sea loch was choppy, it’s not something she’s keen to repeat any time soon. Dandy’s accompanied by her husband Hugh and her two sons, Donald and Teddy. They’re on their way to meet Donald’s future mother-in-law Lavinia, Viscountess Ross, she’s about to celebrate her 50th birthday. Dandy hasn’t met Donald’s fiancee Mallory, but she’s not at all keen on her, mainly because at the age of 30 Mallory is seven years older than Donald. Surely Mallory should have been married already at her age, maybe there’s something wrong with her?

It isn’t long before Lavinia’s body is found in the garden, but she’s surrounded by a fall of snow and there are no footprints at all in the area. How did the murderer manage that? Who would want to kill Lavinia and why? Then there’s another murder.

This was a good read, and it made a nice change to have the action going on in the Scottish Highlands instead of the Edinburgh area or Fife. There’s a wee glossary at the beginning as there are quite a few Gaelic words used, the tale features folklore but McPherson says in her ‘Facts and Fictions’ at the back of the book that most of the folklore is made up by her. Applecross is of course a real place and the manse which appears in the book is apparently available for holiday lets. I imagine that the owners were very happy to have the publicity as it sounds like a beautiful place for a holiday – and it’s fairly unlikely that you’ll be murdered there!

If you want to read this book you might be interested in what the scenery looks like. You can see images of Plockton here. Applecross images are here.

I read this one for Readers Imbibing Peril.

readers imbibing peril

A Rope – In Case by Lillian Beckwith

A Rope - In Case cover

A Rope In Case by Lillian Beckwith was first published in 1968. The setting is Bruach, a village in the Scottish Hebrides. The author who was an English woman who moved to the Hebrides and then started writing about the community and many of her neighbours which is always a bit dangerous. ‘Miss Peckwitt’ – as the locals called her – was told. ‘Always carry a rope – in case’. And whether it was for repairing a fence, tying up a boat or securing the roof of the local taxi, there was no denying the wisdom of it. And Miss Peckwitt soon discovers that her rope is indeed an invaluable piece of kit.

Bruach was a welcoming village and in this book there’s a new villager called Miss Parry, she’s another English woman who has taken over the house of the two spinsters nicknamed ‘the pilgrims’. Miss Parry is a keen knitter and enthusiastically begins to knit clothes for the villagers, but she doesn’t use patterns and the results are always unwearable, but that doesn’t put her off. The socks she knits are just long tubes with no heels in them, none of them match and she claims that as they are for the orphans they don’t need heels. Miss Peckwitt makes the mistake of complaining about her lack of a decent bra and the difficulty of buying one from a catalogue so Miss Parry arrives with half a dozen home made bras, made from an assortment of unsuitable materials such as tartan and Harris tweed – I can feel the itch just writing about them!

This book, like her previous three is an amusing glimpse back to a way of life that doesn’t exist now, life and death as it was in a Hebridean village in the 1960s. With plenty of quirky inhabitants, there’s never a dull moment.

Lillian Beckwith wrote seven books with Hebridean settings, but she ended up moving back to England when some of her neighbours took umbrage at being used so blatantly as copy for her books. There’s no denying though that they’re good if you’re in need of a laugh and this week I’m definitely in need of a laugh!

Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton

Death of a Gossip cover

I decided to read Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton, in memory of the author who died a few weeks ago, it’s the first book in her Hamish Macbeth series, published in 1995.

This is quite similar to her Agatha Raisin books, but this time the murder mystery has to be solved by Hamish Macbeth who is the local Highland police constable, a bit of a lazy bones on the surface, but with the help of his many cousins who seem to live all over the world, he manages to find the culprit. I suspect that this will be a feature of all of the books. The setting is the Scottish Highlands.

The book begins with John and Heather Cartwright preparing for the arrival of their guests. They own The Lochdubh School of Casting: Salmon and Trout Fishing and are expecting a very mixed bunch of students – a 12 year old boy, a retired army major, an American couple, a London barrister, a London secretary, a debutante type and a society widow.

Very quickly the character of Hamish Macbeth is portrayed as being very lazy and a bit of a scrounger, especially where coffee and food is concerned and he seems to be a bit lacking in brain power. Of course he’s just a typical Highlander and as it turns out has plenty of native wit.

Lady Jane Winters – the society widow of a Labour peer seems determined to upset all of the other students, she’s rude and aggressive and seems to know more about them all than she should. In no time she has just about everyone wanting to kill her – or hoping that someone else does. So when she turns up dead in a loch there’s no lack of suspects.

This was quite an enjoyable very light read, but I don’t know if I’ll continue with the series although the books are the sort that are ideal reading when you don’t feel able to concentrate on anything too taxing.

There were a couple of things in it that annoyed me. The Americanism ‘collect call’ was used when of course it should have been the British ‘reverse charges’. Also Lady Jane Winters, who insists on being called Lady Jane should have been named Lady Winters as she had got her title from her husband’s peerage and hadn’t been born a Lady Jane – such as Lady Diana was. I feel sure that a Scottish woman of M.C. Beaton’s vintage would have known this although many people nowadays don’t seem to understand the difference.

Green Park Terrace by Isabel Cameron

Green Park Terrace cover

I haven’t been able to find out anything about Isabel Cameron but from her writing she was obviously Scottish. My copy of this book does have its dustjacket which has some information regarding her other books and the information that over 750,000 copies of Isabel Cameron’s books have been sold. And from the Glasgow Herald – “All Mrs Cameron’s work has that grace, humour and feeling that people love.”

Green Park Terrace by Isabel Cameron was published in 1949 but the setting is a town in Scotland during World War 2 and the Green Park which the terrace overlooks is rumoured to be taken over by the army, the Lovat Scouts to be precise. The news is not welcomed by Mrs Warren of No.1 Terrace Park, she thinks that the soldiers will be rowdy and drunken and will likely spend their time swearing and fighting. Her servant, a young woman from the Isle of Lewis is enthusiastic about the prospect though as you can imagine!

Each chapter deals with the attitudes of various neighbours at different Green Park Terrace house numbers. They’re a very mixed bunch, one house has been turned into a guest house. Another is inhabited by a very demanding woman who thinks she is an invalid and her poor downtrodden daughter. There’s a career woman in one house, determined that having a child isn’t going to change her life and her work in a frock shop, but when the nanny ends up in hospital everything begins to fall apart.

There’s many a mention of Lord Woolton who was appointed Minister of Food during the war, as ever, food and rationing feature. Actually I’ve made Woolton Pie and it wasn’t bad.

This is an enjoyable read and as it was published in 1949 it seems that writers, readers and publishers weren’t too keen to drop the subject of World War 2 on the home front. I suspect that a lot of people were hankering for ‘the good old days’ of war, when so many people, particularly women who had been kicking their heels and bored stiff at home found that they were happy and busy doing war work of some kind. The end of the war wasn’t welcomed by everyone.

I’d be interested to hear if any of you have read anything by Isabel Cameron

The School on the Loch by Angela Brazil

The School on the Loch cover

The School on the Loch by Angela Brazil was published in 1946 and it is the last book that she wrote.

The tale begins in Kenya where young sisters Ailsa and Jessie Lindsay live on their parents’ coffee farm. It’s Ailsa’s birthday and she has just been sent a book by her Uncle Tom in Scotland. The book Bonnie Scotland makes the girls wish they could go there, especially as their father has always been rather homesick for Scotland. He dreams of owning a farm back in his homeland which he was forced to leave as a youngster.

A plague of locusts devastates the coffee crop and very much changes the fortunes of the family so when a Scottish relative offers to take the girls ‘back home’ and educate them the girls are thrilled.

As you can imagine the Scottish weather is a wee bit of a shock for the girls but it isn’t long before they’re settled into life in Scotland and their new school and there’s the usual school situations involving teachers and girls.

Evidently Angela Brazil did do some local research as they visit Loch Lomond and she mentions getting the train to Dumbarton, which is of course where I grew up. I always get a bit of a thrill when it gets a mention in a book.

Angela Brazil must have been getting on when she wrote this one, it’s not her best but as ever I did learn something. I had never heard of the word prog so when I came across it in this book I looked it up in my trusty but falling apart over forty year old dictionary by my side and discovered that amongst many things it means – provisions, especially for a journey. In the book the prog was ready for their trip to Loch Lomond, another place that Angela Brazil must have visited.

The North Wind Blows by Anne Hepple

The North Wind Blows cover

The North Wind Blows by Anne Hepple was published in 1941 but my edition dates from 1956 and it’s the first book by Anne Hepple that I’ve read. I’ll definitely look out for more of her books as I enjoyed this one despite it being fairly predictable romance wise.

Hetha and her mother have escaped from Austria where the Gestapo had shot Hetha’s Austrian step-father. In the mad scramble to get away Hetha’s identity papers have been left behind and her mother had stupidly written her daughter’s name down as Hetha Fischer – the step-father’s surname instead of Montrose as it should have been. On Paper Hetha is an ‘alien’ and she lives in fear of being deported or imprisoned. In an attempt to dodge the authorities she takes herself off to work as a dogsbody on a remote Scottish farm, she loves farm work and ideally would have wanted to join the Land Army, if she had had her own papers.

The farm she works on is owned by Drem but although he owns the land his step-mother has the money and owns all the stock and is furious that her own son didn’t inherit the farmland. The atmosphere on the farm is awful and Hetha is treated like a Cinderella, not that she minds as she enjoys the work and is just glad to be out of the clutches of the Gestapo and also the British police. The locals aren’t exactly friendly to Hetha and things get worse over time as rumours that she is a spy circulate the neighbourhood.

I think the storyline is very authentic as people in Britain did get a bit over-excited about any strangers in their midst, and let’s face it – there are always miserable people who choose to think the worst of anyone, especially if they’ve got a hint of anything different about them.

I’ve always preferred people who are different as they’re more interesting – to me anyway. What about you?

The Sea for Breakfast by Lillian Beckwith

The Sea for Breakfast cover

The Sea for Breakfast by Lilian Beckwith was first published in 1961 and it’s a sequel to her The Hills is Lonely. The setting is still Skye where ‘Miss Peckwitt’ is having to move out of her lodging in Bruach as her room is needed for some of the members of Morag her landlady’s extended family. Lilian decides to take the plunge and buys a croft which has been abandoned for some years. The house is in need of a lot of work and her neighbours are happy to help out, and we’re introduced to a few more of the eccentric locals.

Some of the animals are a bit confused and when Lilian takes her in season cow to the bull the cow is perplexed when the bull bends down and sucks at her udder, not at all what was required or expected!

The standard of morality and double standards are not at all what is expected on the mainland of Scotland at this time as can be seen by the excerpt below.

‘You’ll know him, of course?’ she asked doubtfully. ‘He lived outside the village but he goes to my own church regularly.’

‘I know that Netta had a baby by him a little while ago,’ I admitted.

‘Oh yes, indeed. But he’s done the right thing by her. He’s made sure the baby was registered under his own name.’

‘But if he admits he’s the father and wants the baby in his own name, why on earth didn’t he marry the girl?’

The teacher looked at me in shocked surprise. ‘Oh, Miss Peckwitt,’ she hissed reproachfully, ‘he’s a good-living man and he’s hoping to be a missionary some day. He could never marry a girl like that.’

Hilarious in a way but that attitude to women rings so true and of course it was always other women who were the most judgemental of other females – at the same time as revering the men.

This was another good read with laugh out loud moments.

The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith

The Hills is Lonely cover

The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith was first published in 1959, the year of my birth as it happens – yes I have fairly recently celebrated a BIG birthday. I remember that this book was very popular in the early 1970s when I was working in a public library. It has taken me some time to get around to it. My copy of the book is a lovely hardback reprint from 1973.

This book is quite autobiographical as after an illness Beckwith’s doctor recommended to her that she should move to a rural location for the good of her health so she and her husband moved to the Isle of Skye from the north of England. In the book though Lillian Beckwith or Miss Peckwit as the islanders with their soft consonants call her is a middle aged spinster who moves into a cottage belonging to Morag McDugan who answered her advert for accommodation on the island.

Presumably Lillian’s health problems were all of a nervous/mental health nature as her experiences of reaching Morag’s house would have just about killed anyone with physical health problems. Morag’s garden gate is under water when the winter tide comes in so the only way into her cottage is to climb a six foot stone wall which is what Lillian does – in a howling rainstorm.

This is a really funny read, just what I was needing. It reminded me a wee bit of Cold Comfort Farm with its rural location and odd locals. The island and its inhabitants are a real culture shock to Lillian, it’s a spartan lifestyle with a very limited diet it would seem and cleanliness isn’t a high priority for anyone, but the cottages didn’t have mains water and any of the things that we all take for granted.

Despite Skye being supposedly a very strict religious community, it is really only on the surface, the islanders go to church just for the entertainment value – and the gossip. In reality illegitimate children are common as are rushed weddings.

I bought this book at an antiques centre which has a secondhand book section and the woman who served me mentioned that the book title is bad grammar, which it is, but it comes about because the inhabitants of Skye at that time spoke Gaelic as their first language and they translated into English straight from the Gaelic which is very different. It’s one of those pesky languages that has genders and strangely cows are male, and if you want to say that you have a cat you say ‘ the cat has me’ which looking around at some cat owners I would say that is exactly correct!

I’ve gone on to read the next one in this trilogy – The Sea for Breakfast.