This book by S. G. MacLean is different from my usual historical fiction fare; Bernard Cornwell is more my typical genre. However, this caught my eye as Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year. A highly deserved award, in my view.
The story occurs six years after the 1745 rebellion and the Jacobites' defeat at Culloden, near Inverness. Most of the Jacobite troops and many innocent civilians were killed, injured, raped or made homeless as Butcher Cumberland and his ill-disciplined troops ravaged the Highlands. The story is focused around Iain MacGillivray, who was left for dead on the battlefield, surviving only by pretending to be dead as the Redcoats patrolled the corpses of his Jacobite comrades. He was captured and transported, eventually working his way back to Inverness.
He runs a small bookshop and binding business in Inverness. The town is divided between those who supported the Jacobites in one or all the rebellions and those who supported the government. I should emphasise the word government for those unfamiliar with the period, not the English. Even the Highlands were divided in their allegiances. Inverness was not the city it is today, but it was still occupied by government troops, many building roads intended to allow the army to move quickly across the region. They were also building Fort George (not finished until 1769), which is still used as a barracks by the British Army.
The story revolves around an old book that is used as a code for a list of traitors to the Jacobite cause. There are murders and plots, with the possibility of another rising of the clans in the background. I won't go further as it would spoil the story. The bookshop is loosely based on an Inverness institution, a large second-hand bookshop, Leakeys. The Highland Council and the district councils were part of my work patch in the 1990s, and I spent many hours and a lot of cash in that wonderful bookshop.
This is an outstanding story, skillfully told. Highly recommended.
|Some of my 28mm Highlanders of the period.