Review by Stewart Robertson:
A cinematically descriptive novel of Scotland’s “killing time”…
“The Men of the Moss-Hags” is set in what its central character refers to as 17th century Scotland’s “Killing Time”.
Circumstances, rather than personal choice, engage William Gordon in the tangle of history. In the presence of the Privy Council of Scotland, he readily admits his presence at the Sanquhar Declaration , Ayrsmoss and the conventicle at Shalloch-on-Minnoch (and, in consequence, is sentenced to be beheaded rather than hung!)
Crockett’s set-piece descriptions are superbly cinematic, highly visual and with dramatic focus on an individual character. The Cameron Bothers riding into Sanquhar smacks of a Western shoot-out. At Ayrsmoss, as Richard Cameron raises his sword and his score of men charge the dragoons, the first lightning bolt shoots down “glittering into the moor like a forked silver arrow”. Claverhouse leads his troops against the assembled “Seven Thousand” at Shalloch-on-Minnoch only to dramatically pull up at the last burn, dismissingly snapping his fingers at the Covenanters on the other side. On Wigtown Sands, William’s final image before he is dragged off to prison in Edinburgh, is of the first salt wave touching Margaret Wilson’s lips as she movingly continues singing the twenty-fifth Psalm.
Crockett exploits William as narrator to significant advantage to the reader providing each event with the immediacy that brings history to life. William is an “unshowy” protagonist. Crockett uses Will’s cousin (the dashing Wat Gordon of Lochinvar) to accentuate his character in much the same way as Allan Breck does for David Balfour in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped”. William prefigures the archetypal 20th and 21st century refugee who, with others similarly displaced from home and heritage, are obliged to take to the hills and become “the men of the moss-hags”.
“The Men of the Moss-Hags” has a trio of strong women – William’s mother, sister-in-law and (eventual) wife – each of whom Crockett presents unromantically and realistically, salutary reminders of how the “Killing Time” affects more than the men forced to hide among the moss-hags.