"Secret Dumfries" by Mary Smith & Keith Kirk follows what is by now an established format from publisher Amberley Publishing. What this means in practice is that it seeks out aspects of its subject - in this case Dumfries - that might have escaped more mainstream guidebooks. I have to admit to not being a fan of the very standardised front covers of the series, which show the title on a blue plaque on a brick wall. To my mind this fails to deliver on either of the two main tasks of a book cover: firstly to make it stand out as something special on the bookshop shelf, and secondly to give potential buyers a feel for what lies within.
But the gloomy cover is not the fault of the authors, and once you move beyond it, this is a book that turns out to be interesting, well researched and attractively presented. The ten chapters address themes such as "History", "Industrial Dumfries", "Remember to Look Up" and "Curiosities, Mysteries and a Sad Story" and each nicely balances text and photographs. Most of the photographs are modern, though a few are much older. The end result is a fascinating read.
You get a good sense of the range of contents of the book from the rear cover blurb. "Dumfries... has a long history, much of it well recorded. However, as with most places there are more than a few secrets hidden away. First referred to as Queen of the South by local poet David Dunbar in 1857, the name stuck and was later adopted by the local football team. Not many know that this makes it the only football team in the world mentioned in the Bible. Darker aspects of the town's history include the burning of nine witches on the Whitesands in 1659 and the last public hanging of a woman in Scotland, Mary Timney, was held in Dumfries in 1862. There are tales of plague victims being exiled to Scabbit Isle, of murderers and grave robbers. Not all its secrets are so dark: there's Patrick Miller and his introduction of turnips courtesy of King Gustav III of Sweden, and the exiled Norwegian Army making its home in Dumfries during the Second World War. And what is the significance of the finials depicting telescopes and anchors on the railings along the Whitesands?"