Denzil Meyrick is the author of a series of detective novels based around the cases of DCI Jim Daley. Gritty and intricate, the novels are seen as the West Coast of Scotland’s answer to Rebus. A Large Measure of Snow, however, while set in the same fictitious Kintyre fishing village of Kinloch and featuring some of the established cast, is a novella with a much gentler tone. Here the focus is on intimately sketched characters and the acutely recorded conversations and thoughts of the redoubtable inhabitants. It is a very funny book.
Unlike the present day detective stories it is set in 1967, when life continues in much the same way as it has since the time of the Vikings. There is little crime, unless you count captaining a boat under the influence or substituting packet custard for homemade in a pie contest, but there is drama.
Kinloch is in the midst of the worst snowstorm for a generation and its geography means it could be cut off by road for months. The townsfolk face shortages of food - and more importantly whisky - unless the fishing fleet can set sail to the Ayrshire coast to pick up supplies at Girvan.
The era is important. Advances in weather forecasting and navigation are still relatively untrusted next to traditional methods. Women’s lib, permissiveness and the Swinging Sixties haven’t exactly taken hold in this remote society and reports of them are greeted with scepticism and humour - the women here rule their households, their men and their morality with an iron fist.
Each character is a larger than life eccentric - from Hoynes, the wily captain of a smokey old tub, the Girl Maggie, with his eye firmly on the main chance, to his ingenue first mate, 30-year-old Hamish, who is somewhat forcefully steered on a sober and chaste path by his battleaxe mother. When there is a suggestion that young Hamish might spend a night alone with a woman she strongly objects because: “The stirring o’ the loins is a force o’ nature you canna mess wae.”
The poetic dialogue is brilliantly rendered and the characters are reminiscent of those of Compton Mackenzie or Neil Munro, but the novel also weaves in a beautiful sense of place and myth. Being 1967, a mishap with hallucinogenic drugs - such as those reportedly taken by “they Trolling Stones” - allows the narrative to take a mystical path. It may have been a bad trip, but an encounter with some of the area’s ancient inhabitants is beautifully rendered.
The novel is a light and short read but there isn’t a spare sentence. It sings with the evocation of time, place and people, and the humour and truth behind fishermen’s tall tales.
A Large Measure of Snow – A tale from Kinloch, by Denzil Meyrick, Polygon, £9.99
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