If you haven’t visited Dumfries and Galloway you’ll want to after reading this novel; if you haven’t read any other of Crockett’s novels besides “The Raiders” you’ll want to read more.
“The Raiders”, probably Crockett’s best known novel, is much more than an adventure story come historical romance.
Certainly, its storyline is straightforwardly episodic with priggish Patrick Heron a somewhat reluctant protagonist in the action. Having a first person narrator is a commonplace literary device but Crockett gives Patrick two “voices”, cleverly counterbalancing Patrick, the naïve young laird of Rathan, and Patrick, his prosaic older self.
Circumstances oblige young Patrick to come to terms with an unconventional world that features smugglers, gypsies and murderers and is populated by such larger-than-life characters as the aptly named May Mischief, the mysterious Silver Sand and the blunt Scots-speaking Lady Grizel Maxwell.
May is far from the usual “romantic” heroine. May and Patrick’s wooing is somewhat unconventional. There is an amusing side to Patrick’s rescue of May when she has been kidnapped. As May and Patrick are pursued, it is May whom Crockett provides with all the heroic speeches and actions. The latter culminates in May’s defence of the unconscious Patrick from slavering blood hounds at personal injury to herself. May gets a kiss as she and Patrick are rescued, in turn; but as Patrick declares “this was all our love-making”. Patrick’s sober comment on the matter is merely that it is “strange, considering the coil that is made about the affair in verse-books and ballads”.
Crockett’s portrayal of the ambivalent Silver Sand is judiciously balanced. Silver Sand is a convincing mentor to Patrick and mystery man to the reader, a man with high moral scruples yet an accomplice of ill-reputed gypsies. Crockett provides clues to Sands’ enigmatic character and his real identity. The reader discovers the latter before the slow-witted Patrick and this is both entertaining and dramatically ironic.
“The Raiders” has one of those memorably novelistic first sentences: “It was upon Rathan Head that I first heard their bridle-reins jingling clear”. The first chapter is shot through with vivid images but it is Crockett’s later set-piece descriptions that are even more intensely cinematic: the defence of Rathan’s cave against the smugglers; the stampede of the “rough red Highland and black Galloway cattle” at the bridge-head over the Dee Water; Patrick skating over the frozen lochs and, with Silver Sand, emerging from the Cave of the Aughty after an apocalyptic “sixteen drifty days” of blizzard to see “a wide world of wreathed snow”.
Throughout, Crockett capitalises on his personal knowledge of the Galloway landscape, selecting atmospheric place names with relish to suit his purpose. If you haven’t visited Dumfries and Galloway you’ll want to after reading this novel; if you haven’t read any other of Crockett’s novels besides “The Raiders” you’ll want to read more.
Review by Stewart Robertson.