"Deacon Brodie A Double Life" by David Hutchinson is a beautifully crafted book which paints a vivid picture of the author's home city as it would have been in 1788. This fact-based novel focusses on the life and fortunes of gentleman and City Councillor, Deacon William Brodie, who, through his love of gambling, is drawn into the seedier side of city life. Brodie is first driven, and then overtaken, by the excitement of risk taking, whether this be on the turn of a playing card or in planning and executing a daring robbery underneath the noses of the City Guard. Over a series of increasingly risky heists, where he takes into his confidence a number of Edinburgh's less salubrious characters, Brodie lives the roll of "gentleman by day, thief by night", until he is finally betrayed by an accomplice and is forced to flee the city.
What marks this out as an excellent book is the mastery with which David Hutchinson paints the city around his characters. As the reader walks the streets and closes of the Old Town with Brodie, or visits the emerging New Town with him when he calls on his sister Jamie, the atmosphere is palpable. There is a sense of threat within the dark corners and closes of the Old Town that the light fails to penetrate. The old heart of the city is in decline and though some wealthy residents cling on there, others have moved 'across the bridges' to create a new life and fortune in the leafy avenues of the New Town.
Brodie himself is painted as the colourful character he clearly was. He has a mistress, Jean, and a daughter, Kirsten, whom he loves but can never take as his wife and family. And yet, though calculating he clearly is, he harbours a dream that one day things will be different for them. When he flees to Holland to avoid trial for a bungled robbery, he sees the potential of a future life with Jean and Kirsten in America. But Brodie is hunted down and repatriated to Edinburgh before he can put that plan into action and is forced to face trial. We follow his attempts to place himself elsewhere at the time of the robbery for which he is charged and to present an alibi in Jean, but these fail because the establishment is out to shame him, and he is sentenced to be hanged. However, with the help of his longest and closest friend, Brodie finds himself with an opportunity to escape and, as a result, we see him taking the riskiest gamble of this life. Can he possibly cheat the hangman's noose? You'll have to read this excellent book to find out, but you will find your efforts well rewarded if you do.