Showcases Crockett’s skills as a writer…
“The Red Axe”, a less than well-known romance by an undeservedly less than well-known novelist, showcases Crockett’s skills as a writer.
Typically of Crockett he creates totally believable imaginary worlds. The novel’s opening sets the scene brilliantly. For the first time in his young life, the ten year-old Hugo Gottfried, the novel’s first person narrator – sitting high in the Red Tower of Thorn (“the chief place of arms, and high capital city of all the Wolfmark”) – sees the home-coming of the “famous foraging” Duke Casimir.
The puzzles multiply. Why is city “rebellious”? What is the “fearsome food” for which the bloodhounds “raven” in the courtyard below? Why is Hugo so alone “just because” he has crimson patches sewn on his shirt, winter wristlets and on both his stockings? And what might his father do in the Hall of Judgement or “in the deepest parts of the castle where the walls are eighteen feet thick”? It is impossible not to read on.
Crockett’s characters are strongly delineated. The adolescent Hugo is the archetypical love-sick loon who rejects the notion of following his father’s profession and leaves home to find himself entangled with a naïf and a married woman. The novel contains one of Crockett’s nastiest villains. Despite his frightening “Black Riders”, Duke Otho is “crowned” but not quite in the way he anticipates! As far as “strong” Crockett women go, Ysoldinda is a corker. Arms round Hugo’s neck, her emerald eyes looking directly up in into his, Ysoldinde is liberated from all convention and has much to offer:
“Love me – Hugo – love me even a little. Put me nor away. I will be so true, so willing. I will run your errands, wait upon you, stand behind you in battle, in council lead you to fame and fortune…And this maid, so cold and icy, so full of good works and the abounding fame of saintliness…She shall be abbess of our greatest convent…Only do you, Hugo Gottfried, give me your love , your life, yourself”.
Crockett comments that Ysolinde “might have tempted even Saint Anthony to sin”; but she has a point about Helene. Crockett presents the latter too blandly to provide the dramatic contrast the novel requires. To the reader Helene is forever “the little playmate”, the sobriquet that Hugo gives her from the start and uses almost throughout; she isn’t a maturely drawn character.
The plot is fast-paced, for the most part, with wonderful set-pieces. These include an ingress of mounted “cavaliers of death” into an impromptu on-going monastery mass that screens the fugitives for whom they seek; a rigged trial; and (best of all) one of those un-clichéd last-minute and unlooked for reprieves of an innocent heroine (before the hero cuts off her head with his red axe). There are unexpected twists and turns throughout, not least involving two characters (the incomparable Boris and Jorian) who appear to have slipped in from Crockett’s “Joan of the Sword Hand”. The suspension of our disbelief may be stretched to its limit at some points but very willingly so. The ending and the dénouement may be corny; they are also wholly satisfying.
Review by Stewart Robertson
“Deep Moat Grange” shows Crockett’s mastery of yet another genre. His narrative pace barely slackens culminating in a sensational ending; his writing is shot - through with powerful figurative language that adds a strong pictorial dimension to plot and characterisation.
Crockett subtlety differentiates the “voices” of his various narrators. Joe’s voice is highly conversational; Elsie (as written in diary form) provides an observational account of what happens. Joseph Yarrow’s, Aphra Orrin’s and Miser Hobby’s stories take the form of a letter, a confession and a legal testimony respectively, each with its concomitant language and different style.
Young Joe Yarrow is a close literary cousin of Adrian Mole who would delight readers some 80 years later – naïve in experience but pretentious in his opinion, not least of the opposite sex: “She always had her hair tied behind her head with a blue ribbon, and then falling all in a mess about her shoulders. It wouldn’t stop still, but blew out every way with the wind, and was a nuisance. I would have had it cut off, but Elsie wouldn’t. It was yellowy coloured.”
The scenes involving Joe and Elsie are most amusing; those with Joe and Harriet Caw (very much a prototype Pandora) are even funnier. Crockett’s handling of Elsie’s jealousy of the Caws (Harriet and her sister Constantia) is nuanced in its portrayal and entertainingly credible in its psychology.
“Mad” Jeremy is psychopathically scary from the outset. On spotting Joe and Elsie on the other side of the moat he “jerked out a big ‘gully’ knife, and rushed to the canal bank, leaped into the middle, driving the black scum of water everyway, and almost before we could think he was upon us”. Other characters are scarier still, less overtly evil but subtly screening their callousness towards human life in what is the very personification of horror.
Dr. Islay Murray Donaldson in her seminal literary biography, “The life and times of Samuel Rutherford Crockett”, tersely describes “Deep Moat Grange” as “perhaps his worst book”. Donaldson is surely wrong in a judgment that reveals more about her literary taste than Crockett’s substantial achievement in writing Gothic horror.
PLEASE NOTE - RAIDERS 125 members can get a free digital copy of Deep Moat Grange (plus 'How Elsie Danced for her life' and a contextualising introduction FREE from October 24th-31st 2018) CLICK THIS LINK
LOVE IN PERNICKETTY TOWN
This book published in 1911 is one of Crockett's later books and the plot takes place around that time, evidenced by one of the characters turning up in a car which turns out in the story ro be a Mercedes. I took quite a shine to this book.
The story takes place in a town called Longtown portrayed in the book as being in Scotland (Longtown is actually in England). Crockett has in the past been good at adjusting the geography of Scotland, in the book, Longtown is the principal town of 'Cheviotshire', the Cheviot hills run from north Northumberland into the south east of Scotland. In chapter 4 “Cheviotshire is bounded on the north by the River Drum. On the east it extends to the spumy tides of the Glaswegian Firth, a jutting estuary of which cuts it nearly in two. To the south a spur of the green Cheviots bars the horizon, and the county is named after them”. This would appear to turn Scotland upside down. For the first five chapters the reader considers Longtown to be in mid country near the Cheviot hills.
Chapter 6 sudenly makes the mid country location a nonsense “We were making for Dutchmans point a promentory which looked right out to the tiny spark of the Solway Reef Lighthouse” - “The smooth waters of the Dutchmans Lake spread away to the south
– salt waters edge”. Chapter 10 reference to “the Isle wood”. Chapter 20 reference to Dutchmans Lake being tidal – Isle peninsula – harbour. Chapter 22 reference to harbour – fishing boats and nets. This now points to Longtown being Kirkcudbright which has St Mary's Isle (a promentory), Manxmans Lake (shallow tidal lake), harbour, fishing boats and nets. The big difference is that Kirkcudbright does not have “a population of twenty thousand” and is many miles from the Cheviots.
Now to the story – the principal character is Adrian Ross the classics master at Longtown High School young and recently qualified, as to background there is reference to him playing as a boy in Cotton Street, Cairn Edward (Castle Douglas), he lodges with a Sheba Saunders, a mine of local information and gossip. The headmaster of the school is Dr Erasmus Cassells a head in the air academic with three teenage daughters June, January (known as Jan) and May, there is no mother, June becomes the love interest of Adrian. The cook/servant of the Headmasters house is Persilla Potter quite a fan of the young men in the town. There is going to be a visit from an evangelist, the forerunner, Saul Adam, comes to setup and prepare for the arrival of Reston Rigg the mesmeric evangelist preacher who tours the country and is financed by “Lady Benthorn of Bournmouth the banker's rich widow” Rigg's object is to rescue the souls of sinners. Reston Rigg duly arrives complete with chaufeured blue and gold car, caravan, huge tent and a choir led by principal singer and soloist Hester Vane. The forerunner marches at the head of the procession blowing a silver gilt horn. The procession ended up at a piece of land owned by wealthy auctioneer Tim Jimson and his wife Sarah, it was Sarah who had given permission much to her husband's disgust.
Adrian Ross had become a member of the clerical club, the members of which were all the local churches ministers, they indulged in discussion and arguments, unfortunately they give rise to some rather tedious parts of the book.
The first meeting of Reston Rigg's group takes place and as usual with such meetings of mesmeric evangelists, those who have been suitably moved by his words are invited to a “semicircular altar-rail, with a broad step in front of it – a glorified 'penitents
bench' – and both the rail and the raised step were covered with red cloth”. Reston Rigg said that anyone who came forward and knelt before him at the 'penitents bench' would have come forward because “my eyes shall meet theirs, and they shall read the command 'Obey or perish!' They will obey”. First forward is Saul Adam the forerunner who explains how much of a sinner he had been and how he had been saved by Reston Rigg. Several other people came forward and knelt down including Sarah Jimson, as he was about to close, Jan Cassels ran forward and knelt down. Adrian Ross, who was accompanying the three girls and had a suspicion that Reston Rigg had been looking at the girls, also ran forward, not to participate but to rescue and pull away Jan Cassels who said that she would forever hate him for taking her away; she had been totally mesmerised by Reston Rigg and only wished to be with him and join his entourage, she does not shake off this obsession and this causes future troubles.
The book continues with some very exciting plots which I am not going to comment on as it would spoil it for another reader suffice it to say that the book ends with death, sorrow and joy. This book by Crockett has a title which is its worst possible advertisement for the book.
Reviewed by Kailyard
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