The Burry Man's Day

by Catriona McPherson | Literature & Fiction | This book has not been rated.
ISBN: 9780786717408 Global Overview for this book
Registered by CatharinaL of Pirkkala, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on 6/3/2013
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Journal Entry 1 by CatharinaL from Pirkkala, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Monday, June 03, 2013
A Dandy Gilver murder mystery #2 (2006)

The Dandy Gilver homepage
Catriona McPherson
The Burryman (Wikipedia)
City of Queensferry (Wikipedia)

Supernatural forces at play, or simply good old-fashioned murder?

August 1923, and as the village of Queensferry prepares for the annual Ferry Fair and the walk of the Burry Man, feelings are running high. Between his pagan greenery, his lucky pennies and the nips of whisky to which he is treated wherever he goes, the Burry Man has something to offend everyone, whether minister, priest or temperance pamphleteer. And then at the Fair, in full view of everyone — including Dandy Gilver, invited to hand out the prizes — the Burry Man falls down dead. If he has been poisoned then the list of suspects includes anyone with a bottle of whisky in the house, and, here at Queensferry, that means just about everyone.


I found this book, together with plenty of other interesting and useful things, at the outdoor take-something-leave-something trading section put up for today's Green Week event at the Tammelantori marketplace in Tampere. I traded an item of used clothing for it.

I don't know anything about this book or its author; it's just the cover that caught my attention. It's every bit as summery as the weather currently (+30 degrees Celsius in the shade). On my way home, I couldn't help noticing that all the interesting and useful things I'd found weighed quite a lot more in the bag than the clothes with which I'd arrived...

Journal Entry 2 by CatharinaL at Pirkkala, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Tuesday, June 04, 2013
[04/06/2013] We've had a bit of thunder this afternoon, and I thought the best way to spend time indoors was to start reading.

The 1920s seems to be a popular setting for a certain subgenre of whodunnits; a very cosy and enjoyable choice here, too. However, what I miss here is an Agatha Christie touch. I'm on page 20 and in no position to say much more about this one quite yet, but I'm hoping for a bit of action unfolding and a sharpness of style evolving!

My scope on period murder mysteries is deplorably narrow, but it will be interesting to compare Dandy Gilver to Miss Silver, for example.

[05/06/2013] Mhh... The plot and the suspense are thickening: on page 118 now. I still can't shed the feeling that the book could've been radically streamlined, but it has nevertheless proved an OK read thus far. The ubiquitous Scottish accent adds spice and a certain creepiness to the dialogues, but for a non-native reader such as myself it also slows down the reading and makes for unnecessary foreignness. I really cannot imagine how 'tae' or 'wheesht' would sound in real life; besides, all I can think of is Mr Scott of Star Trek :-)

We haven't learned much about Dandy Gilver herself yet, but she seems a very likable and fascinating character. Is it just my reading, or could she be a bit gay? Cheap trick, if this is merely hinted at with well-chosen turns of phrase while the rest is left for the reader's imagination. (The way words shift their meaning, anything trendy in the 1920s now sounds either obsolete or very daring indeed! Lots of that going on in this one.) This is the second book in the series, so I guess I'd have to get hold of the first one to find out more. In any case, I do hope she's given more depth and/or unconventionality later on in the story.

[06/06/2013] I got intrigued by Dandy Gilver and gave her 'universe' some more thought.

No matter how refreshing and summery, the book cover does not immediately strike me as an ideal one. It is obviously inspired by a vaguely 1920s' fashion, yet it's somehow too cartoonish to be anything but contemporary. I would've preferred more of a vintage style, something that could easily be mistaken for a real item from the 1920s; or something falling more in line with the Dandy Gilver official homepage in the very least. (But then again, marketing strategists know that anything less colourful would not stand out and sell.)

I also googled around a bit and discovered that the Burry Man tradition actually exists in Queensferry (which is a real place, then). I added the Wikipedia links for both up above in case anyone's interested—and there's a video featuring the Burry Man, downtown Queensferry, and the bridge here. Now knowing that Catriona McPherson has been awarded for her accuracy in historical detail, it'd be interesting to know exactly how much local history has been weaved into this one!

Now on with the book...

[06/06/2013, later] Finishing with the book really did not raise any new thoughts about it. I felt disappointed rather at the seamless logic so prevailing in the end: I always feel this way after having read a detective novel. I rather would've preferred the characters evolving to the actual mystery being solved. It's quite obvious why this should be so, too: I never attempt at solving the mystery ahead of the sleuth, but instead I like to follow the pace of the unwitting main characters and savour the atmosphere. This means that most often I get terribly bored at the point where the actual plotline thickens and starts to override any other content. (Here, though, I like the way the image of a 'knitwork' railway bridge eventually becomes a symbol for the case itself.)

Dandy Gilver remains an interesting character, although any actual detail about her is scarce. For example, nothing about her looks is revealed, except for the mourning clothes. This is good of course, as it gives plenty of room for imagination—but an extremely textbook-ish choice, too, and one that does not quite fit with the story. No matter how much of a budding feminist Dandy is, she is also a high-society lady of the 1920s and hence very conventional and attitudinal according to our standards. In her first-person narration, she pays attention to women's hair color and other details—then why isn't hers mentioned? —I tend to picture Dandy as a young Agatha Christie lookalike maybe, a fair upper-class lady but also an ambitious person, someone to be taken seriously but with just the right hint of rebelliousness in her (see picture here). Someone whose clashing name (Dandelion Dahlia, Dandy) suggests quite a bit of more colourful a person...

All in all: I was positively surprised by this novel and will most definitely try to track down the other books in the series, if only to pay attention to the choice of words. (Rather few books by Catriona McPherson are registered for bookcrossing, actually—I'm surprised.) As a former linguistics lecturer, McPherson is certainly one to be trusted and greatly enjoyed. My own knowledge of the 1920s' posh parlance is sadly limited, and I know next to nothing about the Highlands. I am conversant with classics such as 'the wireless' and 'the looking-glass', but I'm sure many other little gems and hints pass me without notice. (It only occurred to me just now that Dandy pictured with her dog on the cover as well as Dandy borrowing a dog in the text should probably both be read as referring to 'seeing a man about a dog' :-))

***

I'll talk about this book and its author when we discuss retro/vintage mysteries in my book club. I don't think many people will be familiar with Dandy Gilver, as the books are not yet generally available in bookstores or libraries in Finland.

Journal Entry 3 by CatharinaL at Pirkkala, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Friday, June 30, 2017
I've kept this on my shelf, and over the years it's proven to be one of those books one just turns to again and again. A very good beach read, a very good rainy day read, a very good read for a blizzard night...

I now have a friend who speaks (and, actually, writes in) Scots, which adds interest to the language: I think I have a better understanding now of the turns of phrase and of the rhythm of speech.

I still haven't come across the other books in the Dandy Gilver series, though.

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