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!
Review by Brendan Gisby.