SAY what you like about Dorothy Dunnett – her plots are Byzantine in their complexity, her characters succumb not infrequently to what Robert Louis Stevenson called “tusherie” in their diction.
And she more than slightly stacks the deck in favour of her most famous character, the strategist, philosopher, linguist, thespian, musician, wit, courtier, spy, all round Renaissance Dude and Champion Buckler of Swashes Francis Crawford of Lymond - but her devotees get their vote out.
When I omitted Dunnett from another such list - of the making of lists there is no end - the Scottish Book Trust’s website sagged under the indignation.
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That nearly half the list are characters from children’s books should surprise no-one. We feel most affection for the characters with whom we have lived longest and with whom we have introduced another generation to the joys of reading, be they Katie Morag or Oor Wullie or Harry Potter (though I’m allowed to feel wryly glad that Hermione was higher up than Harry himself). I would have thought Peter Pan and The Gruffalo might have sneaked in, but they were seemingly squeezed out, predictably, by sleuths.
That Begbie lags just behind Francis Crawford tells its own little story about the schizophrenia of Scottish writing. Gritty realism or glorious pageant? Skag or claret? The contemporary or the historical, the local or the globe trotting? Macho man or, er, macho man?
In a strange way the top two are dark mirrors, not of each other, but of the fannish nature of such public votes. Irvine Welsh took to Twitter to entice his readers with a new Begbie novel if he came first - at least we are spared the sound of the bottom of the Trainspotting barrel being excavated towards New Zealand.
One thing does surprise me - there are more heroes than villains or antiheroes on the list. Has Scotland finally turned away from miserablist self-vivisection? There may be no gods, but there are a precious few heroes here.