It was when I was about two-thirds of the way through "The Key-Stone Of The Bridge" by Craig Meggy that I realised that it was a very long time since I'd picked up a book that was such an absolute pleasure to read. This really is a fabulous book; and it is a book that deserves to be widely read and enjoyed.
The story revolves around four old friends who put aside the passing years and, in most cases, their increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and travel in January to the remarkably remote Ben Alder Bothy. They are there to relive winter expeditions made to the bothy in years gone by. But mainly they are there to fulfil the last wish of a fifth friend, Banjo, who has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and who always wanted his ashes scattered on the summit of Ben Alder in winter. The story is told from the perspective of Scully, who has flown in from a new life in the United States for the occasion. He is met by Doc, known in earlier years for his tendency to aggression when roused and still sometimes referred to, though never within his hearing, as the "dark prince". At the bothy they meet the two other members of the group, Robbie, now employed as a park ranger, and Donald, who works in a distillery.
Large parts of the book revolve around the stories the friends tell one another in the bothy about scrapes and exploits from their younger days, and about Banjo in particular, while they consume copious quantities of whisky washed down with McEwans Export. On the first night in the bothy a stranger arrives and almost sours the occasion. The next day the friends climb Ben Alder in perfect winter conditions, and later share the bothy with a couple from St Andrews University who have been directed to it by an unknown climber. Much of the evening is passed telling ghost stories in a bothy widely believed to be haunted. As the unknown climber fails to appear that night, the four set off in search of him next morning, but the weather gets steadily worse and events get increasingly out of control as the imperative shifts from enjoyment to simple survival.
This is a book you close with a genuine feeling of regret. The ending has some nice twists that add further to the enjoyment, but much of the pleasure comes simply from sharing the experiences and the tales of the four friends, told through utterly convincing dialogue that brings the characters to life in a remarkably vivid way.