Bill Heaney, The Crown Agent cover and Stephen O’Rourke QC.
NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
Just Another Saturday. I remember a youthful Billy Connolly doing a light-hearted television documentary called that.
It was about all about Greenock, currently the worst-hit place in Scotland for Covid-19 linked deaths.
Something is stirring in my mind too about a Peter McDougall play called The Elephant’s Graveyard, which was set in the towns at the Tail o’ the Bank.
And more recently Danny Boyle, he of the Olympic Games opening spectacular in London, produced yet another drama about that part of Clydeside.
When I was a very young editor, I was invited to lunch in his Kilmacolm palace by Stephen McGill, the then Catholic Bishop of Paisley, whose fiefdom included the whole of Renfrewshire.
The former Bishop of Argyll surprisingly described the territory from Paisley to Port Glasgow and beyond as “The Barbary Coast”.
Take from that what you wish, but Greenock has always been associated with poverty, crime and deprivation. And sugar – a wee Tate at a time.
Changing its name to Inverclyde never really helped Greenock, although it has some impressive architecture including the Custom House on its quays.
And an iron replica of Henry Bell’s first ever steamship, as you enter the town of Port Glasgow.
Henry Bell’s Comet passing Dumbarton Rock.
Recently, before the Covid-19 lockdown, we were invited by a young man of many talents, Stephen O’Rourke QC, to a launch in Waterstones bookshop in Princes Street, Edinburgh, of his new novel, The Crown Agent.
According to Alexander McCall Smith this is “a colourful and fascinating story – the first of what I hope will be many adventures penned by the talented Mr O’Rourke.”
S.G. MacLean has described the book as “fast-paced and not a word wasted, this is a classic adventure that calls to mind Stevenson and Buchan.”
And it is too. Very much so.
There is a touch of the Marie Celeste about it – ‘A ship adrift, All hands dead. A lighthouse keeper murdered in the night. The Crown needs a man to find the truth. Dr Mungo Lyon, his reputation tarnished by the Burke & Hare scandal, and forbidden to practice as a surgeon, is the wrong man. That’s exactly why the Crown chose him.’
Stephen’s book is of particular interest around here in West Dunbartonshire and Argyll.
Someone joked at the book launch that the people of Dumbarton had always looked down on Port Glasgow and Greenock, but they have done quite literally from across the river at Brucehill, Westcliff, Ardoch, Cardross and Helensburgh.
Stephen O’Rourke’s novel is set on the Firth of Clyde and the skilfully drawn map by Camilla Seddon on the opening pages points out place names and sketches of landmarks, rivers and ships associated with them.
The Comet, Edinburgh Castle and the Antonine Wall, for example. All of which feature in Mungo Lyon’s journey, which takes place around 1829.
Lyon’s travels take him to the far off Caribbean, the Cayman Islands, Havana and Jamaica, Mosquito Point and Port Royal.
These place names conjure up visions of sailing ships, unremitting sunshine, Treasure Island, cutlasses, eye patches, sweating pirates and even the late Bishop McGill’s Barbary Coast.
These are exotic parts of a world we can only dream about during these days of seemingly interminable lockdown. It seems we will be allowed to go nowhere for the next few years.
However, you can transport yourself there in your dreams, most definitely through the pages of this gripping novel.
And, like Alexander McCall Smith, we hope this is just the first of many adventures penned by the talented Mr O’Rourke.
The Crown Agent by Stephen O’Rourke is published by the Sandstone Press, Inverness, IV2 7PA and is available priced £14.99 from all good bookshops or at http://www.sandstonepress.com