My Favourite Crockett Novel – Until the Next One:
Thanks to the unflagging efforts of a feisty lady by the name of Cally Phillips, who has almost singlehandedly resurrected the work and reputation of the much-neglected and unfairly scorned nineteenth century Scottish novelist, Samuel Rutherford Crockett, I am a big fan of that wonderful writer. Having read a good number of his sixty-odd works so far, I’m often asked, “What is your favourite Crockett novel?” My answer always is, “The one I’m reading.”
And that is so true. I’ve just finished reading “The Cherry Ribband”. Needless to say, it is my current favourite. It is set during The Killing Times of the late seventeenth century, when a deadly game of cat and mouse between the King’s Men and the Covenanters was played out across the hills and moors of South-West Scotland. While the story begins in Crockett’s beloved Galloway, much of the action takes place on the East Coast of Scotland, a territory that is certainly more familiar to this Edinburgh laddie.
To be honest, though, I’m never much bothered about the historical context and geographical settings of Crockett’s novels. It’s the writing that interests me. There are Crockett’s superb trademark descriptions of the landscape for a start. From blushing dawns over the moorland to velvety black forests at night, those descriptions never fail to move me.
Then there are the characters he brings to life. Heroes and heroines, of course. But of more interest to me are his secondary characters. In “The Cherry Ribband”, he presents us with an array of memorable players. There’s Rantin’ Rab Grier, scourge of the Covenanters. And there are the two East Coast fishermen: wily, scheming Prayerful Peter and his nephew, honest and laconic Long-bodied John. These are characters who will stay with me for a long time to come.
As will the Countess of Liddesdale, a loud, brash, courageous giant of a woman. And it’s her words that serve to illustrate a third and not less important reason why I love Crockett’s work – his masterly command of the Scots tongue. This outburst from the big lady almost had me in tears: “And what for then should I be afraid o’ wee Steevie Houston, daft or wise, guid or ill – me that could grip three Steevies in my left hand and shake them till their very banes played castanets!” So vivid. So Scottish. So perfect.
So there you have it. “The Cherry Ribband” is my current Crockett favourite. But I’m off now to peruse the great man’s catalogue for my next favourite!
Check out more about The Cherry Ribband, including the link to purchase directly from www.unco.scot in the Crockett Collection HERE
This month we’ve heard from a new member Peter Carolin looking for Wilson connections. He writes:
My great grandfather, James Burns, was born by Loch Trool, at The Stroan, in 1855 and later became a bank manager in the Argentine. His father, also James, a herder, was born in the area in 1825 and married Janet Wilson. The Wilsons were also herders and lived in Culsharg, apparently for many generations. Sometime in the 1960s, my grandfather, also James Burns, a shipping manager in Brazil, mentioned Crockett in some notes on the family – of which the following is an extract:
Sadly, my great-grandfather’s scrap book has not survived.
I particularly like the part where the relative writes: 'my grandmother did not consider them truthful'. It reminds us both that in former days people struggled with accepting historical fiction as a genre, and how personally people can take tales of their own ancestry!
From the extract it seemed to me the most likely book being referred to was ‘Men of the Moss Hags’ since the ‘Buchan’ connection seems to link with Glenhead, thus the MacMillans, thus time spent there in 1894/5. And there are Wilsons in that book (including the Wigtown Martyr Margaret Wilson) But if anyone else has other suggestions or knowledge, please do email us or comment below and we’ll pass the information on to Peter.
Although we cannot be in Galloway this year to celebrate Crockett's birthday, it will not go unmarked. Sunday 24th September will see the Bog Myrtle Golf event held at the Himalayas course (Ladies Putting Green) St Andrews. If you plan to attend, please email email@example.com for details.
And we'll also be launching the latest in the 'Discovering Crockett's' series: Discovering Crockett's Edinburgh on Sept 24th. This is the third in the series and does what it says on the tin - helps the reader 'discover' Edinburgh through Crockett 'fact and fiction.' It's a whistle stop tour through seven centuries of Auld Reekie, Crockett style.
You can buy a pre-publication copy HERE if you can't wait (or can't come) on the day.
Of course it doesn't look exactly like this any more - but the eagle eyed among you will instantly recognise Little Duchrae. It went up for sale at the beginning of the year and we are happy to announce that the new owners have just moved in.
I'll let Paul introduce himself:
Good morning from Little Duchrae. My wife and I have just recently moved into our new home after spending the last six years in Aberdeenshire.
Viewing Little Duchrae came about more by accident rather than design. We had initially dismissed the house from a shortlist, not least because we thought the advertising didn't show it in the best light.
Time was limited for viewing the shortlist of houses and had to be completed in one day. We had 9 houses in 10 hours in a route that took us grom Kirkcudbright, up through Laurieston, New Galloway and out past St John's Town of Dalry. In the middle of the day we had a time gap and I added Little Duchrae to pass the time.
When we arrived at the house, even without entering, we knew there was something special about the place. It was the dreariest of days but this didn't squash our enthusiasm.
On entering, we found the house to be in good order with no damp smells, even though it had been empty throughout the winter. More importantly, there were no signs of little visitors and our keen nosed Cairn Terrier, Raasay, showed no signs of excitement either.
We spent so much time at Little Duchrae we were late for the next appointment.
Our hearts were set on the house and by the evening and a few glasses of wine later, everything else paled into insignificance. However, during the night my wife had a series of disturbing dreams, probably due to some of the horrors we had seen during our viewings. There was only one thing for it. We would have to go back and look again. Obviously we wouldn't get into the house but we could look around the outside before heading back to Aberdeenshire. This we did and on a morning with the sun shining and our Collie, Skye chasing the birds around the paddock, we made up our minds that we had to have Little Duchrae.
One thing the estate agency advertising did succeed in was to spark my interest in an author I had not heard of before. I love old, well loved books and love their smell. I have a number of early edition copies of HV Morton, Black's Guide, Sir Walter Scott etc. I now have an ebay alert set up and aim to collect and read as many SR Crockett as possible. I have just started on "The Men of the Moss Hags."
We have a few teething problems with the house, including a problem with ph balance and turbidity in the water supply but even after day one it felt we had come like home. Little Duchrae is a small piece of paradise in a hectic world. We love it and long may it continue.
We wish Paul and his wife (and dogs) all the best in their new home and look forward to sharing Crockett stories with them in the months and years to come!
To Long Lost Family... This month we're putting out a call on behalf of Norma Crockett. Norma is the granddaughter of William Alfred Crocket. Does anyone else have a connection or could help Norma track other living relatives?
If so, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
to let us know.
Norma has donated an author signed copy of Dulce Cor to the Galloway Raiders library/archive. If you know the Laurie's or can shed any light on why Crockett gave them a signed copy, we'd love to know.
She is now reading through the remaining Crockett books left her by an aunt. Happy reading!!
If you want to find out more about Crockett’s early life and ancestry, we have put some information on the website. Our Honorary President Richard D.Jackson commenced a biography of Crockett in the 1990s, which has never been published. The project was never completed but we have the initial six chapters in our archive (which take us up until just before Crockett became ‘famous.’) This month, the first chapter is available on the website for members to read. Further information may have come to light in the intervening years, so please do feel free to add comment or updated information – email email@example.com
If you are not yet a member of the Galloway Raiders, it's still free to join, just head on over to the website.
If you are a member - the password is changing this month so be sure to open your Raiders News, which will drop into your email inbox on 16th, to get the new password.
‘The strength of evidence is not in the separate links but in your ability to form a chain’ (S.R.Crockett, The Azure Hand)
A century ago today the First World War was in full swing. Crockett had been dead for some three years. These are but two of the contextual reasons why The Azure Hand was published with more of a whimper than a bang’ by Hodder & Stoughton.
Today, Ayton Publishing brings out a new centenary edition of this long out of print work, offering the reader the opportunity to draw their own conclusions and explore the mystery for themselves. There’s a number of ways to do this. One, of course, is to read the book.
You can order the paperback edition right now, with the click of a mouse HERE
for a mere £9.99 plus p&p
But if you want to ‘try before you buy’ you can read all about it
In a guest post on Martin Edwards (Crime Writers Association) blog HERE
and in the Alliance of Literary Societies 2017 Journal HERE
And perhaps you might like to consider the importance of context both in narrative and in publishing. Here's a wee bit of detective work undertaken regarding The Azure Hand's original publication:
Advertisements for the novel came out on Thursday 26th July in The Scotsman
Which stated: The Azure Hand S.R.Crockett’s last novel. A thrilling mystery story. Price 5 shillings.
And the The Globe which added that it was a Masterpiece of sustained mystery.
The reviews took a bit longer to come in.
Even The Bookman, which a decade ago was Crockett country, dragged its heels till September before offering a half-hearted review:
This is advertised as ‘S.R.Crockett’s Last Novel’ and it is very different from the fiction with which that author began his literary career. ‘The Azure Hand’ is a murder-tale. It opens with a murder, which leads to another, and is flanked by three love-stories which relieve the plot. The murder mystery is well contrived. It is somewhat drawn out, but that is inevitable in tales of this nature, and Mr Crockett knows how to beguile his readers with minor characters and their by-play, from Sue Sim, the housemaid, to Mrs. Hampden Jones, the wife of the Chief Constable. Perhaps more than English readers will wonder what Mrs Hampden Jones did when she ‘harcelled her daughters collectively and individually till they wished they were dead’; but if the last verb is obscure, the meaning is plain. There is plenty of love-making in the novel, a certain amount of humour and fun, some character-sketching which is interesting, and, over all, the enigma of the murders. The scene is set in the Lowlands of Scotland, but the tale is not aggressively Scotch. The main characters move in circles where local dialect is unknown, and for this and other reasons the tale is distinctly readable, even exciting. The detective is not too clever. The hero is not immaculate. All of which makes for freshness in the handling of a familiar theme.
And other papers struggled to know what to make of it.
The Northern Whig of 25th September 2017 seems perplexed that it isn’t like his earliest novels from some 20 years before, still they accept that ‘the book is full of cleverly drawn characters.’
How unusual is it that a writer’s work changes over a thirty year career? Is this something to damn him with?
The Scotsman on the 17th September 2017 writes:
We have a posthumous story from the pen of the late S.R.Crockett, which marks the gulf between its author’s earlier, and later work. The story is ingeniously constructed, and it has a number of exciting moments; but the atmosphere is that of the ordinary sensational romance, and does not even distantly recall the exquisite charm of ‘the Raiders.’
The plot is complicated enough and the secret is well kept, while the romantic interest is skilfully interwoven; but the style lacks the charm and distinction of Mr Crockett at his best.
We see here what was already and has remained ever since, the petard upon which Crockett was hoist – it’s not ‘The Raiders’
It’s risible to suggest a writer should have spent 30 years reworking the same story and blame him for not so doing. To find it impossible that a writer cannot write a variety of styles and genres says more about the reviewer than the writer surely? But Crockett was dead and the judges pronounce. And people remember him for nothing but ‘The Raiders’ which, while a fine book, is not by any means either the limit or the apogee of his creative talent.
The contemporary Globe review is just as puzzled as the others, claiming that:
Mr S.R.Crockett’s last novel The Azure Hand is a curious combination. In its main outline it is a mystery of two murders worked upon refined detective lines with a finesse which displays French influences… Involved in it is a double love story with the Galloway humour characteristic of the author practically run riot, so that the serious interest of a detective problem is practically submerged by an element which is almost farcical, with an effect which is certainly unusual.
We should remember that this book, written probably a decade before, was published in the context of the First World War with all the constraints and predilictions that involved. We should also always remember that publishing is a business.
Crockett’s widow had to press the publishers to bring the book into the public, and they had little incentive to ‘puff’ it. Few books have much of a shelf life and it’s neither a surprise nor a reflection on the book or the author that The Azure Hand silently sank without trace. It has long remained of value only to those who collect Crockett, and then only because it is very rare. While alive, his work was published in hundreds of thousands of copies, many of which can still be picked up for under £10.
But now, a century on, we hopefully have the maturity to look back from a different context and re-appraise. With this new edition the reader at least has the chance to do that. The introduction is written by Crockett scholar Cally Phillips, with an endorsement by Martin Edwards of the Crime Writers’ Association. The former knows her Crockett, the latter knows his detective fiction. Both rate the work. But it's up to you to do some detective work and draw your own conclusions.
Follow the Sweetheart Trail
If you're out and about in Galloway this Easter, why not get on your bike and follow the Sweetheart Trail. Download the 'Get on your bike' free Pdf HERE to guide you.
A new book has come out offering a 'revelation' of a secret romance. To read this you need to go into the Context section. This is members only content so to access it you will have to use the current Raiders Password (which can be found in the current Members News)
The link is HERE
Once you've read it feel free to give us your feedback here.
There's been some back and forth on the Galloway Raiders Facebook page recently regarding the Raiders Bridge. 19th century postcards abound - here's one example. But where exactly is it? And is it really Crockett's 'Raider's Bridge'? Feel free to add your comments:
This is the picture by Copland in ‘Crockett and Grey Galloway’ which shows the bridge. The location of this bridge (I’ll confess I’ve not been there myself) is at the Hensol Estate:
The best information I have is as follows:
For those for whom maps mean anything here's a link: http://archive.is/D5OL
MOSSDALE 77/84 : NX 6570 (Philip’s D&G Street Atlas 104)
Airds of Kells (1743 or earlier): Two-storey farmhouse and pavilions.
Hensol Estate: Tudor Lodge (c.1825) and bridge possible by Lugar. The Lainshaw Sundial (C17) has numerous dials.
Hensol House (1822-4): Large Tudor villa mansion in grey granite by Robert Lugar. Four ogee-roofed square towers.
Site Name Hensol Bridge
Classification Road Bridge (Period Unassigned)
Alternative Name(s) Bridge Over Black Water Of Dee
Canmore ID 210410
Site Number NX67SE 53
NGR NX 66366 70081
Datum OSGB36 – NGR
(if that means anything to you, good luck!)
This is a photograph of Raiders Bridge from the Galloway Raiders Dr Donaldson archive, taken in the 1970s. The eagle eyed among you will realise that the bridge mentioned (and shown here) is much later than the action of The Raiders. There was an earlier bridge, so we can assume the ‘Brig o’ Dee’ and ‘Bridgehead’ mentioned in The Raiders is an older bridge, near this one, and there’s an amount of artistic/dramatic license employed both by Crockett and photographers who claim ‘The Raiders Bridge’ at Hensol. It was good for the tourists though!
I’m happy to enter into more in depth conversation about the Raiders Bridge. If you want to comment please do so.