Friday, 18th February, 2000: a meeting of the book group at Inverness Library. It’s notable because the reclusive writer Marjorie Macpherson is leading a workshop; but three people are making their way to Inverness with agendas that will make this truly an evening like no other. Henry Jennings, a single, middle-aged financial adviser, became infatuated with Marjorie (or, at least, with his mental image of her) from reading her books; now, his chance to meet her has come. Henry’s estranged brother, Peter, has been sent a manuscript of a recent poem in Scottish Gaelic by one Angus Urquhart, with mysterious instructions to return it by hand; as Peter translates the poem, something clicks – could Urquhart be Calum Calum, the subject of Peter’s thesis, whose last known work was composed sixty years previously? And Elena Martìnez also has business with Angus Urquhart, as she believes him to be the veteran of the Spanish Civil War who betrayed her grandfather and brought shame on her family.
Well, this is a very enjoyable book. Bobbie Darbyshire has put together three intertwining storylines that, first of all, are told in very engaging styles. The narration may be third-person, but it nevertheless evokes the different characters of the three protagonists. This happens most strongly in the passages told from Peter’s viewpoint, whose terse sentence-fragments convey a rather irritating personality; but it’s there with the others, too – Henry comes across as essentially a nice man who gets a little too emotionally attached to certain people; Elena’s ‘narrative voice’ is more neutral than the others, but it does capture her hesitancy and feeling of being slightly adrift from the rest of the world, wherever she goes. These voices are highly effective in bringing the reader into and through the story.
But the plot itself is no slouch when it comes to doing that, either. There are some neat twists that reconfigure what we thought we already knew; and, beneath the light exterior, there’s an interesting look at what can happen when a truth you held close to your heart turns out to be less true than you supposed. Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones is a fast, fun read, but not a superficial one. Well worth a look.