Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Stuart Reveals His Choice for Book of the Month

Stuart Reveals: The Review's April 2015 Book of the Month goes to...

When I was first asked to select just one book by an indie author to be awarded with The Review's Book of the Month medal I knew at once which one I wanted to select. But before I reveal what that book is I think I should put down on record some of the things that I look for in a book, things that set it apart from so many other excellent books I have read and enjoyed over the past twelve months. For me it has to be a subject that I can lose myself in. I enjoy science-fiction, I love trashy zombie apocalypse stories, and a good comedy can keep me giggling for hours. My first love remains historical fiction though, particularly Scottish HF for the simple reason that I know more about that than I do about Anglo-Saxon or medieval England, although that is not to say that I don't thoroughly enjoy stories set in those periods as well. I do. But my first love will always take me back to Scotland and the rich tapestry of her history. From the ancient Picts resisting the advance of Rome's rapacious legions, to the unification of the various old Pictish kingdoms into one under Malcolm Mac Alpin to form in 843 the nation we now know

Growing up in the 1970s I became fascinated by the struggles of the Wars of Independence, of William Wallace (the true story and not the Hollywood hokum), of Robert Bruce and Bannockburn. The Declaration of Arbroath and on to tragic Mary Stuart and her death at the hands of the beastly English queen!

John Knox and the Scottish Reformation, the National Covenant and the blood soaked Killing Times when Scots fought and slaughtered their traditional enemy, other Scots! Learning about the English Civil War, as it was still called way back then, only became interesting when I discovered that my own hometown on the coast of Fife had been occupied by the tyrant Cromwell for ten long years. The Restoration of the Monarchy and the Glorious Revolution were mere background to the things that truly fascinated me, the massacre of Glencoe and the Jacobite Rebellions of the 18th century.

Discovering the stories of Robert Louis Stevenson sealed the deal for me. Kidnapped was the first book I truly fell in love with. Here, finally, was a book set in places I knew. Edinburgh, Queensferry and the Highlands leapt from the page and straight into my heart. After that I knew that I had found home. It is a love that continues to this day and I love anything set in that period. Which brings me nicely to naming the book I have selected for the Book of the Month Award. That book is...

The Hanging of Margaret Dickson by Alison J. Butler

The reasons I chose this particular book over so many others which could have been  selected are quite simple. First of all, and most importantly, it is a great story! The characters are believable, the dialogue zips along with a convincing tone, no small feat when you consider that Alison Butler is not Scottish but she gives an authentic voice to her cast that fits them beautifully.

Being set in my beloved Edinburgh and East Lothian also helped, although it takes more than setting to make a good story. A tourist guide to the Old Town is set in Edinburgh after all but wouldn't make many Top Ten lists of Books You Must Read Before Death! No, what makes the difference is the story, and this is a story that blends fact and fiction so seamlessly that you cannot tell where one begins and the other ends.

Stay tuned for my review of The Hanging of Margaret Dickson later this week.

Stuart S. Laing is the author of the Robert Young of Newbiggin Mysteries set in 1740s Edinburgh.


  1. A couple of days ago I wandered round the outside of what may well have been the Inn at Maxwellheugh where Margaret Dickson came to work and fell pregnant. (It's available for rent, if anyone's interested…) I love this story.

    1. Now there really is a case of 'if these walls could talk!'

  2. This book looks really fascinating. Good choice!