by Neil M. Gunn ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 22, 1987
Popular Scottish novelist Gunn (1891-1973) is virtually unknown in the US; this 1952 tale--a somber character-study flecked with low-key suspense--appears here for the first time. The publisher's grandiose hype can be safely ignored, but there's a modest, rustic appeal in Gunn's earnest, tight-focused, old-fashioned storytelling. The novel centers (a bit claustrophobically) on ""old Sandy,"" a retired seaman living in agreeable isolation on a tiny Highlands farm. Then, however, there's a murder in the nearby town--young Allan Innes has impulsively killed Robert Menzies, his rival in love--and policeman Nicol Menzies, the dead man's brother, launches an obsessive hunt for fugitive Allan. The policeman begins haunting Sandy's farm, convinced that Allan will seek help from the old man (a longtime friend to the local lads). And Allan does indeed turn up--a starving, quaking, guilt-ridden wraith. Will Sandy help him, risking his own precious privacy, peace, and independence? Of course he will, secretly providing food, shelter, and money. Furthermore, after Sandy is nearly bedridden after a bad fall, he openly takes another sort of fugitive into his home as housekeeper: Liz Murison, the grave young woman who loved Allan yet became pregnant by Robert Menzies and is now a social outcast. But finally Sandy's help to Allan is not enough to save the lad from a sad, violent end--though the birth of Liz's child and Sandy's forgiveness of the murderous policeman (""There had been enough violence"") provide a quietly upbeat fadeout. Despite bits of seagoing reminiscence (an exotic lost love) and spiritual musing, old Sandy remains more a type than a vividly specific character. His noble strivings against selfishness are somewhat preachily belabored. (""We don't wantto love one another, he cried. Words! Words! I only want to be left alone."") But thanks to the starkly detailed farmyard setting and familiar yet welcome injections of mild village comedy (a bossy widow-neighbor), the narrative remains firmly earthbound-and stolidly, plainly effective.
Pub Date: Oct. 22, 1987
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1987
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