90 years on, spy novel's secrets are revealed
LIKE many a good espionage tale, it left a few puzzles for readers to solve themselves. But now, 90 years after it was first published, the secrets of The Spy in Black have been revealed.
Its author, J Storer Clouston, set his popular First World War novel in Orkney but did not refer to the islands by name. Instead, he talked about the "windy islands" and changed place names because it was wartime.
However, a new limited edition of the book is being produced which will reveal the locations in the story, which was made into a hit film in 1939 as Britain headed into battle again.
And as part of next month's 90th anniversary events, a guided tour retracing the steps of the book's main character is being organised.
Joseph Storer Clouston, who lived at Smogroo House in Orphir on the Orkney mainland, was a novelist and historian who also served as a councillor.
The Spy in Black tells of a daring German plot to cripple the British fleet in Scapa Flow. Lieutenant von Belke, a U-boat officer, lands in Orkney to rendezvous with a traitor willing to hand over secret information that could spell disaster for the Royal Navy. The 1939 film version, directed by Michael Powell, featured many Orcadians as extras.
The tour of Clouston's locations is part of the third annual Celebrating Scapa Flow weekend on 4-6 May, organised by Another Orkney Production, the voluntary organisation which is reprinting the book.
Research on the sites was carried out previously by archaeologist Daphne Lorimer, but her findings were lost when she died. However, recent detective work has been conducted by Elaine Clarke and Sandra Miller, the island rangers funded by Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage.
Ms Clarke said: "Lots of the action was set in parts of the island that the author knew well, but he disguised them in various ways. But by following the text, and knowing the landscape, we were able to work out where they were."
They established from Clouston's descriptions that Lt von Belke comes ashore at Birsay Bay in the north-west of the Orkney mainland. He later passes a standing stone (Quoyboune, near the Loch of Boardhouse) and, after his motorbike breaks down, retraces his steps to the Marwick area. Heading south, he hides behind a wall (at Skaill Bay), then takes a zig-zag road, scattering tacks to slow down pursuers. Finally, making his way (through the parish of Orphir) to the south mainland, he describes seeing his final target (Scapa Flow).
The author's mention of travelling 20 miles to his target narrowed down his starting point. Before the Churchill Barriers were built during the Second World War to connect other parts of Orkney to the mainland, there were few places from which he could have travelled for 20 miles to reach Scapa Flow.
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