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By Eddie Bruce
Drifter's Legacy Web Site
Review by Dione M. Coumbe, author of “Dathan Charles”
As given in the title, this is a collection of short stories. The period covered is from World War 2 to the present day and also spans the genres of romance, crime and life. The thread running through them all is whisky. How it is made, tested and drunk with the inevitable result, for some, of over indulgence and ultimately alcoholism. Most of the stories have a 'twist' which is usually unexpected, thus refreshing.
The first two titles,'Gulf' and 'Orra Loon' are tales of our times. A young American lass puts a message in a bottle as part of a class project and years later it fetches up on a wild highland beach in Scotland. What develops is both a charming and ironical story made more so by the use of dialect. This, at no time, compromises understanding and the lilt and cadence is implicit in the reading. If you have ever visited the Highlands of Scotland, you'll find this akin to a return trip.
'Bonny in Black'relates the story of John, an adolescent low in self esteem who nevertheless accomplishes much by diligence as an apprentice cooper then as he reaches adulthood, marries and settles with Mary. Becoming too fond of the product of his work and at odds with Mary's family, he resolves his difficulties in an ultimately destructive way. In this story you'll find the characterisation drawn very finely. Bruce has the knack of sketching with economy, no extraneous puff and every word counting.
In'Tarradale's Option', rural life in Scotland comes to the fore with this tale of poaching, peat, love and gentle revenge. Written in low key style, the last line comes as a shock, yet provokes laughter. Oh, how cruel!
With'Insulated Conductor', Bruce moves to London and to a 'fly-boy with street cred.' who works as an inspector hunting down fraud by employees for London Transport buses. Here, I'd guess the author knows the job since his description of people, attitudes, routes and scams is spot on. Romance gets in the way of the job but how is Gina 'creaming' London Transport? I'll leave you to find out; the lady's ingenious.
Still in London,'Potholes and Speed' brings Duncan who is trying to build up his road haulage company and avoid any crooked associations. For self-starters in this business, it's always difficult. 'It fell off the back of a lorry' has been a cliché since they were invented. Again, Bruce's ear for dialogue and dialect comes to the fore; he has the argot in all the right sequences. 'Guys and Dolls' it ain't, this is realspeak, to be heard on the streets of the capital anywhere. Does Duncan escape? Find out.
More of Duncan in'Dodgy Night Out' where by now his own road haulage business has dived, he hopes temporarily, and he is operating his own scam with a very lively and crooked lady named Kathryn on the company they both work for. As the 'net' closes in on them, they, in a mix of both astuteness and stupidity try to save the situation. Cleverly observed, this is a vignette of how normal people react outside the 'boom and bang' of Hollywood treatments.
'Friendly Fire'is set in Jersey; 'Mecca for hedonists' and 'for the male seasonal migrant worker it's easy living, with an ever changing selection of sun-seeking single girls'. Although Jersey is part of the United Kingdom, it's still an island of 'ex-pats' a kind of miniature 'Happy Valley' where sun, sex, adultery and money all contribute to the melee and can lead to a 'crime passionel'. A hotpot of mistaken motives and deeds, with a kick at the end.
Don't get friendly with Jim, the'Fixer'. This is a health warning. A truly creepy and sinister story that would have delighted Poe, if he'd been around today. Having read it, you'll be wondering if there are many more around like Jim. This is a particular gem because it's very difficult in a short story to convey the ideas and emotions propelling the plot. Bruce achieves this, far more than adequately, by crafting each word and wasting none.
With'Receiver' we're back in London and listening to a conversation between an older and younger woman. It isn't until the last few sentences it becomes clear the dialogue you've read is full of reverses and euphemisms for what is really happening. An amusing tale of a biter, bit.
'The Bookies Runner'is a period piece, which describes the activities of a man, with hopes for the future, who collects bets to back horses, dogs or whatever is running. Until the '70's in England, illegal. Naturally, the temptation to fiddle Barney, someone doing rather better in life, eventually becomes too strong. The essence of the title becomes obvious in the denouement.
'Jerusalem'starts at a drying out clinic for people with addictions. When Batholomew arrives, the narrator is foggily half de-toxified and reading William Blake. Given Mr. Blake's polemics, it's surprising he's not back in the pub. Group therapy is not 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. More a meeting of bewildered individuals wondering why they're watching a video in Welsh language with sub-titles and doing exercises more fitted to a school of drama. From 'Jerusalem', Blake's immortal song, Bruce extrapolates the story of laughing Mary and wealthy Bartholomew and the subliminal meaning which for them, becomes a truism.
'My Brother's Keeper,' is about two lonely boys growing up in an orphanage. One, is the son of parents employed at the home and Rab, the other, is an inmate. The narrator becomes a clerk in a whisky distillery and both young men by seventeen years of age are hardened drinkers. Sometimes living together in Scotland and London, in between adventures alone, the attitudes of alcoholics to non-drinkers are succinctly described. As is the effect upon marriage and families; this is achieved in very few words that say it all. The final sentence will have great resonance for anyone who has been, or is, alcoholic.
This is Bruce's first collection of short stories and it's an achievement. He's produced a work that, whilst having a common thread, is very varied in content and interest thus never dull. It isn't full of pyrotechnics, but beautifully and thoughtfully crafted and true to those he writes about. These are people who will never find their 'fifteen minutes of fame' and probably wouldn't want to. Suffice to say they can get through life without damaging themselves and others too much in the process and find some pleasure along the way. In short, Joe and Jane Public. The whole work makes the point that so-called ordinary people are anything but, once you go beyond appearance. If you were to describe the book in musical terms, it would definitely fall into the 'Country' category, but without the whine of self-pity.
My recommendation is buy it. If you're a reader you won't be disappointed and if youare also an aspiring writer of short stories, you have a book of templates of how these should be written.