This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor

The Golfing Life of Jock Kirkcaldy

Frank Crowe (Grosvenor House Publishing: £25)

When Sheriff Frank Crowe retired from the bench at Edinburgh Sheriff Court after many years of public service, we knew he would be much missed. Whilst it was always on the cards that he would use some of his much deserved free time to write, it was not anticipated that he would produce this cornucopia of all things golf.

The foreword by Gary Player is an interesting opener: both he and the author have law degrees from Dundee University. One, of course might be classed as the better golfer; the other is definitely the better lawyer.

Frank Crowe describes himself as a “keen but rubbish golfer”, having played as and when he could over the last 50 years. Through the sport, he has made many friendships, both on the course and off, thanks surely to the same warmth and approachability which radiates from this book. A mixture of both short stories and essays, the book is one to dip in and out of, perfect for a day when poor weather might prevent the game being played for real.

There are glimpses of autobiography throughout, starting with the author's first junior membership card at Balwearie Golf Club in 1964. His father is mentioned with fondness, as are some of the many characters he has encountered on the course. When family and career took him away from the course, Frank became an avid collector of golf memorabilia, which is referenced in the later chapters. His knowledge of the sport is encyclopaedic, if the entries in this book are anything to go by. There is an abundance of photographs of golf clubs, favourite books, and a glossary of golfing terms, some of which (hosel?) are intriguing to say the least.

The short stories introduce a wealth of characters who play the fictitious Silverfield Golf Course, among them the Duke, Deimos (in a story of aliens) and Ms Jennie Hinton, together with Jimmy Gibb. The illustrations by Rob Anderson are a great addition, bringing the characters to life.

The author produces “one final rant”, where he concludes that there is a real need to keep the game alive and relevant. This will strike a chord with those who have had to start their time at the Golf Club of their choice with a Monday to Friday membership, which means little real chance to play during the first year. Sheriff Crowe suggests there perhaps could be shorter courses, needing fewer golf clubs. Will it ever be possible to wear what you want and feel comfortable in? And to be able to play mixed doubles?

While the book might have benefitted from a different style of editing, it is a lighthearted and entertaining stroll through amateur golf. The money raised from the sales of this book will benefit Heavy Sound CIC, a social enterprise project working with young people who have experienced trauma or who face barriers to learning and inclusion. A worthy cause.

A Breath on Dying Embers

Denzil Meyrick (Polygon: £8.99; e-book £3.79)

This is the seventh instalment to the DCI Jim Daley series. It is a cracker.

Daley finds himself on the sidelines having suffered some heart trouble. Despite being largely housebound, he is able to assist Carey Symington as she leads the team to investigate the murder of an ornithologist in the hills above Kinloch while the Great Britain weighs anchor in the bay with minor royalty and moneyed businessfolk on board. Daley's trusted wingman, Brian Scott, is temporarily promoted to DI and is a more significant character than in previous books. This brings a surprising freshness to the narrative and field of characters. Meanwhile Daley's wife seeks refuge from her abusive boyfriend.

The tension crackles as we witness the tensions of competing agendas amongst the security services, senior foreign office civil servants and police, as we witness preparations by terrorists to attack the Great Britain. As with all superb crime novels, our attention is equally diverted to O'Rourke, a wealthy American of Irish origin on board the Great Britain who has a significant grudge with the UK establishment.

Not surprisingly, the book was shortlisted for the 2019 MacIlvaney Prize.

At the end of the book, we are left pondering an uncertain future. Quo vadis?

Parkrun: more than just a run in the park

Debra Bourne (Chequered Flag: £11.99)

Time has come round again for the resolutions to be made. This enchanting book may encourage you to participate in a parkrun. There is bound to be one close to you. Every Saturday morning tens of thousands of people run, walk, jog, push a buggy over a five kilometre course. And it's free. Debra Bourne charts the rise of the stunningly simple concept of the parkrun from the first event organised by Paul Sinton-Hewitt with a group of 13 friends in Bushy Park on 2 October 2004. From those early beginnings the parkrun takes place across the globe. Inspirational stories abound. Go on... you know you want to.

The Crown Agent

Stephen O'Rourke QC (Sandstone Press: £14.99; e-book £7.19)

There's a great tradition of Scottish lawyers penning novels: Scott, Stevenson, Buchan and, more recently, McCall Smith and McIntyre. Stephen O'Rourke QC joins that merry band with his first novel, The Crown Agent.

In particular, O'Rourke’s debut reminded me a great deal of Buchan and his “shockers”, whilst the global setting brought to mind Stevenson. Those who love the Richard Hannay or Sir Edward Leithen novels will love this novel, as will those who enjoy a tale of derring-do.

Set in 1829, the disgraced Dr Mungo Lyon is sent from Edinburgh to Greenock to investigate some odd goings-on – a murder, a missing man, and a shipwreck. The west coast of Scotland, though, proves to be an intimidating place for a man who has been chosen because he is expected to fail.

It is a beautifully rendered world – the descriptions of Georgian Scotland are exquisite. The Greenock of 1829 zings off the page. It is hard not to warm to Lyon as he stumbles out of his depth into a terrifying world. Like Buchan at his best, O'Rourke's debut is filled with romantic heroes, double-crossers and worldwide conspiracies seeking to overthrow order with chaos. Famous historical events are woven into the story well and it is evident that as well as fine prose, significant research has gone into this work.

The perfect book for a cold winter's night: a tightly written tale of secret societies, Spanish treasure, the trial of Burke and Hare and more besides, as a well meaning Edinburgh man battles against the forces of darkness who try to trip him up (and worse) at every turn. More please!

 

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