The Burry Man’s Day by Catriona McPherson

This is the second in Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver series.

Synopsis (taken from the back cover):

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 he is treated to wherever he goes, the Burry Man has something to offend everyone wherever he goes whether minister, priest or temperance pamphleteer. And then at the Fair, in full view of everyone – including Dandy Gilver, present at the festivities to hand out prizes he drops down dead.

It looks as though the Burry Man has been poisoned – but if so, then the list of suspects must include everyone in the town with a bottle of whisky in the house, and, here in Queensferry, that means just about everyone …

Part of my interest in The Burry Man’s Day is that it is set in South Queensferry, on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, now part of the city of Edinburgh, formerly in the County of Linlithgowshire. I’ve been there once. It’s close to the Forth Road Railway Bridge:

I haven’t seen the Burry Man’s Parade, which features strongly in this book; it must be a strange sight.

The book has a rather slow start, but it’s one I enjoyed for all its historical detail about the place, its traditions and the people. It has a great sense of place, with a map of Queensferry at the beginning of the book which helps you follow the action. I wasn’t very taken with Dandy Gilver. I liked her more in a later book in the series. In this book she comes across as a busy-body, albeit kind-hearted, and a snob, but then that’s probably just a reflection of the class structure of the times. She’s married to Hugh, who seems to spend his life hunting and shooting and managing his large estate at Gilverton in Perthshire. Dandy doesn’t have much in common with him, being rather bored by life at Gilverton and Hugh doesn’t feature much in this book.

This is Dandy’s second investigation and I suppose if I read the first book, After the Armistice Ball, I might understand her relation with Hugh and with Alec Osborne, her co-investigator. That’s one of the drawbacks of reading a series out of order.

There’s a lot more to this mystery than the death of Robert Dudgeon, who been the Burry Man for 25 years. He’d been extremely reluctant to take the part this year and the question  why was that remained unanswered for the majority of the book. I had an idea about the reason, but only guessed part of it. It’s a convoluted tale and the motive for the murder is buried deep in the descriptions of the characters and their histories. It’s a book you need to concentrate on, and at some points I did have difficulty in sorting out some of the minor characters. Other than that I think it’s a very good book, although maybe a bit too long.

  • My Rating 4/5
  • Author’s website: http://www.dandygilver.com/author.htm – where you can read an extract from this book
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Robinson Publishing (30 Aug 2007)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1845295927
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845295929
  • Source: Library book

6 thoughts on “The Burry Man’s Day by Catriona McPherson”

  1. South Queensferry is just across the Forth from me so I’m going to read this book for that reason alone. I’ve only been there once too as we’re usually on our way to Edinburgh when we go past it. I haven’t read anything by Catriona McPherson yet.

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  2. Margaret – Thanks for this fine review. I happen to really like historical fiction as well as novels with a real sense of place. Put them together and I’m there! Looking forward to reading this, actually.

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  3. Just discovered how to leave a reply after following you for a month! Thanks again for the great pictures-travel and family of England. I look forward to your daily posts, knowing this must take a lot of time for you. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Must read this too. Having been brought up in Edinburgh I saw the Burry Man once in S. Queensferry. It must be a difficult costume to wear, and very uncomfortable too, being completely covered in burrs. He can’t really move much or all the green burry things would fly off.

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