Phantom Horse Goes to Scotland by Christine Pullein-Thompson

Phantom Horse Goes to Scotland cover

I went through a phase of reading pony books when I was probably about 9 or 10 and the Pullein-Thompson family wrote so many such books, it seems it was almost a family business, so I definitely read some of theirs back then, but not this one which was written long after my childhood.

Phantom Horse Goes to Scotland by Christine Pullein-Thompson was first published in 1981, it was later re-titled Phantom Horse Island Mystery.

It’s the summer holidays and Jean and her brother Angus are disappointed because their parents are having to go abroad because their father is a sort of diplomatic troubleshooter, he’s got to fly to the Middle East (nothing changes!) and their mother always accompanies him. But what will happen to the children?

Luckily Angus had seen an advert in a newspaper about The Island School and College of Further Education whch focuses on riding and dressage, ideal for Jean, and Angus can be coached on mathematics which is his weak point. Mr Carli is the headmaster and everything is arranged very quickly. The children fly to the Scottish island, as does Phantom, Jean’s horse!

Apparently Mr Carli had only recently bought the island and most of the original inhabitants had recently left to go to the mainland. There’s only one cottage which is still inhabited and they will be moving out soon as the woman is heavily pregnant. There’s something strange about the whole set up, but Jean is very happy with the training in dressage that she’s getting and the teachers seem fine.

When Jean and Angus realise that some new horses have been moved onto the island under cover of darkness they are sure there must be some sort of nefarious purpose behind it and their investigation leads to danger.

This was a very quick read and quite an entertaining adventure. I will give it three stars on Goodreads I think. I was a bit annoyed that as far as I was concerned there were some details of the tale which weren’t satisfactorily tied up.

It might seem unlikely that parents would send their children off for the summer to a place that they hadn’t even checked out, owned by a man that they knew absolutely nothing about, but some people did do things like that to their children. I was sent to Germany for a month to stay with a penpal and really we knew very little about the family, and it was the summer before I went to high school. I had to fly from Glasgow to Dusseldorf (where I got lost), then on to Stuttgart airport. I survived but I would never have done that to my own children! I still remember the shock I got when I saw the Nazi medals in pride of place in their display cabinet, everyone I knew at home had their WW2 medals hidden away in a drawer, and the one thing that my parents had warned me about was – do not mention the war!

The Dark Mile by D.K. Broster

 The Dark Mile cover

The Dark Mile by D.K. Broster was first published in 1929 and it’s the third part of a trilogy. The Flight of the Heron and The Gleam in the North should be read before this one.

The setting of The Dark Mile is nine years after the battle of Culloden. The inhabitants of the Highlands of Scotland are still very much under the rule of the Redcoats. They aren’t allowed to own guns for fear they would be used against the British army which is very much in control with hundreds of soldiers based at Fort William.

The disaster of Culloden isn’t far away, especially for Ewen Cameron who is still mourning the execution of his friend and relative Doctor Archibald Cameron at Tyburn, for High Treason. Ewen knows that someone had betrayed Archibald, probably giving information of his whereabouts to the English authorities – in return for gold.

Ewen’s cousin Ian Cameron is now his father’s heir as the eldest son had died at Culloden. Ian’s father is keen for him to get married and is beginning to negotiate with another family for their daughter’s hand, but Ian has fallen in love already, unfortunately his choice is a Campbell. It seems doomed from the beginning as Ian’s father will have nothing to do with Campbells as they were on King George’s side during the Jacobite Rebellion.

This book has more romance in it than the other two, but there’s still adventure, danger and drama. It’s a good read.

The Loud Halo by Lillian Beckwith

 The Loud Halo cover

The Loud Halo by Lillian Beckwith was first published in 1964 and it’s the third book in her Hebridean series. These books are comic novels set in the village of Bruach where ‘Miss Peckwit’ has gone to recover from an illness, she had been a teacher in the north of England. Life on a remote and primitive Scottish island is very different from what she has been used to. There’s no indoor plumbing, actually no plumbing at all, no running water just a well and the toilet is a shed with a big bucket – if you have a man strong enough to lug it out. Lillian makes do with two earth sheds which she takes turns at using and seems to think that’s hygienic enough.

By this time Lillian has been well and truly accepted by the locals and is even speaking some Gaelic. The books are stories of her encounters with her neighbours who all seem to be eccentric. There’s Kirsty who treats her poor brother like a slave and she steals her neighbour’s crops with no conscience involved, her neighbour ends up having to move.

More and more tourists are arriving, despite the midges and they are turning out to be good business opportunities for the locals. Quite a lot of this book deals with the things that the islanders get up to in order to get money, including the government assistance which they all seem to be on, there’s also an awful lot of boozing going on. I had a feeling that life on the island was beginning to lose its charm for Beckwith and indeed at the end of the book she has packed up and the villagers are seeing her off at the station. She did write some more Hebridean books in later years though.

It was a wee bit of a Miss Buncle situation – if you’re familiar with that D.E. Stevenson book you’ll know that Miss Buncle wrote a book about life in her own village which became very successful. The trouble was that all of the characters were far too recognisable and none of them was happy at being put in her book!

This book is a good light read, a glimpse back to the days before everyone on the islands had all mod cons. By the time I went to Skye for the first time in 1970 the locals even had freezers which I was very impressed with as we only had a small fridge with ice box at home. Our old friends who had gone back to live on Skye again after a five year sojourn in Glasgow had a freezer in their living room, it was one of those sliding lid ones and thinking about it I think it actually said ‘Wall’s ice cream’ on it! Anyway, I still have a few of these Beckwith books to read so I’ll continue with the series at some point in the future.

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.