Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review - Catriona McPherson's The Burry Man's Day

The Burry Man's Day (Dandy Gilver Book 2) by Catriona McPherson
Published by: Robinson
Publication Date: 2006
Format: Kindle, 372 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Dandy and her dear friend Daisy are off to Queensferry to reconnect with an old classmate and to go to the Ferry Fair. Freddy, nicknamed Buttercup, has finally returned from her sojourn in America with her new husband Cad in tow. Cad has lived his entire life in America and upon inheriting Cassilis he has decided to come to Scotland to play lord of the manor. Because in Dandy's eyes that's what the newlyweds are doing. They don't quite understand their duties to their people. You don't just get to live in a castle and while away the day lounging about. Take the fair for example. Freddy has agreed to open the fair and judge various competitions, like "The Bonniest Baby," when anyone who knows Freddy sees that this is the worst idea possible. Indeed Dandy gets a bit of a sinking feeling that perhaps the invitation extended to her and Daisy had ulterior motives...

Dandy is quickly thrown right into the middle of everything as Freddy does indeed expect Dandy's help. Not only is the fair a big to-do, there are factions within the small community that are at war. The local folk tradition of the Burry Man is the focal point of this struggle. A local man is covered from head to toe in Burdock burrs and he parades about the town being given sips of whiskey and coins. The three local churches view this as paganism and superstitious nonsense. On top of that, the temperance league led by the local schoolmaster, doesn't approve of the alcoholic aspect of the Burry Man, which is a bit ironic because bottling whiskey is the main source of income for the villagers. Yet for a short while, it looks like there might not even be a Burry Man this year. Mr Robert Dudgeon has declared the night before the fair that he will not be able to do his Burry Man duties, though he has successfully done it for 24 years. Dandy carefully talks him around but has deep regrets when the next day, after the fair has opened and the Burry Man's procession is done, Robert Dudgeon dies while participating in the greasy pole competition. The coroner quickly passes it off as a heart attack brought on by too much drink and exertion, but can that really be true? Cad and Freddy, hearing from Daisy about Dandy's previous sleuthing success, beg her to look into the case, because they think it might just be murder.

With The Burry Man's Day, which for some reason whenever I try to say it comes out as "The Burry Man's Dray," as if a man covered in burrs could ride a dray horse... is certainly a far more cohesive and satisfying book then After the Armistice Ball. There was a satisfying beginning, middle, and end, that didn't leave me floundering for pages upon pages wondering who everyone was or where the book was taking place. From the outset we are given a distinct place and time, the second week in August after the bank holiday in Queensferry, Scotland. As Dandy journeys there, she reminisces on her past, so we get some nice exposition. Ah, if only the first book had been so well structured, much of my issues would have been washed away down the Forth as we stand on the impressive bridge that inadvertently led to Dandy marrying Hugh and becoming a Gilver.

Though, now that structure has finally been imposed, Dandy's character flaws come a bit more to the forefront. At times I was wanting to just smack dumb dumb Dandy for not noticing obvious things. I'm not saying that I would have solved it faster if I where in her shoes, I'm just saying, dear lord, that took a long time. Cut out about a hundred pages and Bob's your uncle. Her stupidity was too much to be born, and it didn't help that Alec seemed more then a little useless this time around. Yet, I will say, that at least it didn't take them months, the murder happened on a Friday and by, what, Wednesday, Thursday it was solved. So, good job there. Yet Dandy wasn't the only one with flaws... there was a pervasive flaw in all the lower caste of characters. I don't remember a single character in the first book talking in dialect, but here we have dialect up the wazoo. And not consistent dialect either. It's all over the place. The thing that really got me was that the Widow Dudgeon at one point totally drops out of dialect and is speaking just like Dandy. That made it seem a little fake and forced... which applies to all those speaking as such. If you can't do dialect right, don't do it.

The thing I loved about this book was the Burry Man. I mean, I cannot say how much I loved this. The fact that this is a real tradition that McPherson was able to weave into her book and hang her mystery off of made it just fascinating to me. If I had the time and money I would quite literally be getting on a plane to Scotland to celebrate this interesting event which is happening so soon! I mean I could not have read this book at a better time. I have also now started to troll the net reading more about the Burry Man. There is nothing more magical then when a book inspires you to search out more knowledge and more information. Of course, I now might have nightmares because Dandy doesn't understate the kind of horrific aspect of the Man himself.

If you look closely you can see the eyes! There is a person in there! As Dandy said:

"I do not know what I had been expecting, and I felt foolish for being surprised. After all, I had known that the Burry Man was a man covered in burrs and here was a man covered in burrs, but the effect was staggering... Mouldy, encrusted, vegetative and obscene, when he walked it was the stuff of nightmares... I saw with a shudder that his hands were bare and somehow this evidence that there really was a man in there was the chillingest of all."

Yes, I can see nightmares in my future... also, as a side note, because my bookclub just read The Shining... topiary coming alive, not that scary... if King had used this, absolutely terrifying!

Going beyond just the Burry Man, I love how the local folklore and scary stories the village children told each other was incorporated into the truths and therefore lent itself to the solving of the crime. Most people will just push away fairy tales and folklore as the stuff of children, but those gifted few know that the simple truths, distorted through tall tales, are real. These stories were written originally to teach morals and give warnings. But what it all boils down to is that Fairy Tales are real. Terry Pratchett comes back to this again and again in his writing, and I think that's why The Burry Man's Day reminded me of his Tiffany Aching series. While we have fetes and fairs and stories around the fire, it all comes down to truths that can not be overlooked. Listen to the stories, they might just solve a mystery for you.


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