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The Distant Echo by Val McDermid

Harper, 2010, 569 p. First published in 2003.

 The Distant Echo cover

I probably wouldn’t have read this – I wasn’t particularly taken by the author’s The Wire in the Blood – but the good lady had just finished it and mentioned it was set partly in my old stamping ground of Kirkcaldy and partly in St Andrews (which I know well.) So I thought I’d give it a go. The locations in the book aren’t restricted to Fife, it does stray to Edinburgh, Stirling, Glasgow, and even Seattle but the main events take place in what the locals like to call “the Kingdom.”

The prologue lets us know of a Fife Police press announcement of a cold case review and a shadowy figure haunting a cemetery before Part One plunges us into the 1978 discovery of the dying body of Rosie Duff by four students at St Andrews University (schoolfriends calling themselves the Lads Fi’ Kirkcaldy) taking a short cut back to their flat after a party. One of them is a medical student and tries to save her life but fails. As discoverers of the body and covered in blood they naturally become suspects. The investigation cannot summon up evidence even to charge them and the case is unresolved but they are still subjected to suspicion, threats and violence – especially by the dead girl’s brothers. McDermid makes a lot of this finger of suspicion and the effect it has on the four and their relationship(s). Part Two sees the resurrection of the case and its reintrusion into the four’s lives. But in the intervening twenty-five years the main evidence from the victim’s clothing has been lost and there seems little hope of progress. But the review has stirred the old suspicions and someone has the four firmly in the frame.

McDermid’s prose is certainly efficient but rarely rises above the workmanlike. The book’s structure, too, made it slightly odd. Part One was more or less scene setting, involved a lot of information dumping and therefore dragged somewhat. McDermid makes passing reference to the fascistic fringe and government encroachments on citizens’ rights in the late 1970s. (That sort of thing has become even worse of late with intolerance having been adopted into the political mainstream and governments eager to seize any excuse to restrict citizen’s rights.)

I would have said that it was cleverly executed except that the resolution was disappointing. It has more holes in it than Stoke City’s defence and depends too much on the prior withholding of information from the reader. In the last (tie-up) chapter it is revealed that one of the four Lads had a piece of information that would potentially have pointed to the murderer but never told the other three – nor the Police – during all those twenty-five years of suspicion. We can only suppose this was to create an artificial sense of suspense and it kind of obviates the point of the book (no matter what reason he might have had for his reticence.) Moreover the murderer seems to have been able to carry the body up a hill to where the Lads stumbled upon it without seemingly getting any blood on himself, even though the victim had a gaping wound.

McDermid has a wide readership. I assume they don’t like taxing their brains overmuch.

Pedant’s corner:- the main drag (St Andrews has a main drag?) Roger Waters’ (Waters’s. And I know he wrote Shine On You Crazy Diamond but did he sing on it? Wasn’t that David Gilmour?) “[Kirkcaldy’s] Town House looked like one of those less alluring products of Soviet architecture” (is more than a bit harsh. It’s a fine buiding.) Raith Rovers’ (Raith Rovers’s,) Brahms’ (Brahms’s,) “had strode” (stridden,) “‘Gonnae no dae that’” (is referred to as if it were a catchphrase from the early to mid 1970s. It wasn’t. Chewin’ the Fat, where it originated, was first aired in 1999.) “‘We lay low’” (we lie low – but it was in dialogue and the character had lived in the US for years and they can’t seem to get the lay/lie thing correct over there,) Soanes’ (Soanes’s.) “The sky was clear, a gibbous moon hanging low in the sky between the bridges.” (sky….sky,.) Sainsburys (Sainsbury’s.) Plus several instances of “time interval later”.

Edinburgh’s Art Deco Heritage 20: North West Circus Place

Two bank buildings – one a former bank – in North West Circus Place, Edinburgh, near Stockbridge:-

Frontage, Number 15, North West Circus Place:-

Former Bank, Near Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Detail:-

Detail, Former Bank, N West Circus Place, Edinburgh

Royal Bank of Scotland:-

RBS, N West Circus Place, Edinburgh

Front View:-

Front View, RBS, N West Circus Place, Edinburgh

Good cartouche above doorway and still deco style on the door itself:-

Detail, N West Circus Place, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Art Deco Heritage 19: Shandwick Place

The Co-operative Food om Shandwick Place, Edinburgh:-

Art Deco, Shandwick Place, Edinburgh 1

Upper levels. Rule of three in windows on either side of central portion:-

Shandwick Place, Edinburgh, Art Deco Shop

Detail:-

Detail, Co-op, Shandwick Place, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Art Deco Heritage 18: Fraser’s, Princes Street

On corner of Princes Street and Hope Street.

From Shandwick Place:-

Frasers, Edinburgh

Note clock on corner. Rule of three on windows above:-

Frasers, Edinburgh 2

From Princes Street. gain rule of three on windows:-

Frasers, Edinburgh from Princes Street

Edinburgh’s Art Deco Heritage 17: Morningside and Comiston

The Dominion Cinema may be the most striking Art Deco building in Edinburgh’s Morningside but there is some minor deco about the area.

Art Deco style old bank in Morningside, Edinburgh, now an Estate Agent’s:-

Pagan Osborne, Morningside, Edinburgh

Doorway. Note cartouche and surround:-

Doorway, Pagan Osborne, Morningside, Edinburgh

Pagan Osborne, Morningside, Edinburgh

Bank entrance, Comiston Road, Edinburgh. There was a van parked on the street directly in front of this so I couldn’t photograph it from any furher away:-

Bank Door, Comiston Road, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Art Deco Heritage 16: Dominion Cinema, Morningside

This is a stunner. A fantastic cinema in the Streamline Moderne Art Deco style. It really ought to have been much further up this list, possibly even at the top, but I had no photographs of it. I knew it existed but not exactly where it was in Edinburgh. I wasn’t very familiar with the geography of the city but my son moved there a couple of years ago and on a visit I was exploring the area he lives in.

Imagine my delight on coming across this by accident rather than design. It’s still a working independent cinema, run by a family. This is their website. They also have a facebook presence.

From Morningside Road end of Newbattle Terrace. Great curved column:-

Dominion Cinema, Edinburgh

Closer view:-

Dominion Cinema 2

From Newbattle Terrace, opposite aspect:-

Dominion Cinema 3

Upper detailing and roofline:-

Dominion Cinema 4

Stained glass window by entrance doorway. This is mirrored on the other side:-

Dominion Cinema 5

Column detailing and surround:-

Dominion Cinema 6

Canopy, clock and lettering:-

Dominion Cinema 7

Stitch from across Newbattle Terrace:-

Dominion Cinema 8

The Persistence of Scott

My previous post’s title was of course a reference to the alternative title of Sir Walter Scott’s first novel Waverley otherwise known as Tis Sixty Years Since.

I am of course reading that author’s The Heart of Mid-Lothian at the moment which means he has been on my mind.

Scott’s influence continued to be felt long after his death. Edinburgh’s main railway station is named Waverley in his honour and there is of course the huge monument to his memory on Princes Street.

Scott Monument

On seeing this Belgian author George Simenon is supposed to have asked “You mean they erected that for one of us?” then added, “Well, why not. He invented us all.”

Also named after him is the main steamer on Loch Katrine in the Trossachs, the SS Sir Walter Scott, which was built by Denny’s of Dumbarton, dismantled, its pieces numbered, then the whole transported by horse cart to Stronachlachar on Loch Katrine where it was reassembled.

SS Sir Walter Scott
SS Sir Walter Scott

She is by no means the only ship with a Scott connection which I have sailed on.

The Heart of Mid-Lothian‘s main female character is named Jeanie Deans, a name previously familiar to me – at least in her second steamship incarnation – from several of those trips “Doon the Watter” that used to be so much a part of a West of Scotland childhood.

PS Jeanie Deans
PS Jeanie Deans

There was a short branch line (now long gone) off the main-line station at Craigendoran (about 8 miles from Dumbarton) which took trains right up to a platform on the pier where the ship would be waiting for its passengers to detrain and embark – usually for Rothesay. I believe something similar pertained at Wemyss Bay.

One of the delights of the trip was to descend into the lower parts of the ship to see the engines; mesmerising visions of gleaming, oiled steel and brass, powerful flywheels spinning, pistons thundering, regulators twirling. “Taking a look at the engines” was also used as a euphemism by those suitably aged gentlemen patrons who wished to avail themselves of the licensed facilities on board.

There was also an earlier PS Jeanie Deans. Indeed the North British Packet Steam Company and North British Railway seem to have named their ships almost exclusively after Scott characters. Have a look at this list of their ships, some of which were transferred to later operators.

Only one of these floating mini-palaces still exists. The second PS Waverley (built in 1949) is now the sole ocean-going paddle steamer left in the world and still carries out excursions from its base on the clyde near Glasgow Science Centre, in the Bristol Channel, from London, the South Coast and Wales under the auspices of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society.

PS Waverley at Ilfracombe
Waverley at Ilfracombe

If you can avail yourself of the opportunity to take a trip on the Waverley (or indeed the SS Sir Walter Scott, though she is much smaller and does not quite afford the full experience) I would urge you to do so.

Edinburgh’s Art Deco Heritage 15: Narcissus, London Road

It took ages for me to get a photo of this without any vehicles in it. At first there was always a van in the way and cars were moving past:-

Narcissus, Edinburgh

After walking on a bit and coming back I got this. Shame about those bins:-

Narcissus, London Road, Edinburgh.

There’s a good art deco feel to the door surround and to the lettering above:-

Doorway, Narcissus, Edinburgh.

War Graves, Edinburgh

These were both in New Calton Burial Ground, Edinburgh.

M Miller, Royal Scots, 5/8/1916, age 36.

War Grave, Edinburgh

There was an unusaul communal gravestone for seamen of the Merchant Navy Merchant Navy inscribed, “Five Sailors of the 1939-45 War, MV Atheltemplar, 1/3/1941.”

Communal War Gravestone, Edinburgh

On 1/3/1941 the Atheltemplar was attacked by Heinkel 111s off the Aberdeenshire coast. A total of 12 crewmembers died. This stone commemorates the five who were unidentified.

A Literary Gent

In the loosest sense.

This is one of the many sites in Edinburgh associated with men of letters of which the most prominent is of course the Scott Monument.

It’s the statue of Sherlock Holmes which stands in Picardy Place; erected in memory of his creator Arthur Conan Doyle who was born in 1859 near to this site. The Conan Doyle Pub is just over the road in York Place. The childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson is less than a stone’s throw away from here.

Sherlock Holmes Statue

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