Denzil Meyrick is best known as the author of the bestselling Detective Chief Inspector Daley series of contemporary crime novels set in the fictional town of Kinloch, based closely on the real Campbeltown near the southern end of Argyll's Kintyre peninsula.
The three stories that make up "Kinloch Tales: The Collected Stories", originally published as separate novellas, have the same setting, but transported back over half a century. All three are beautifully written and the author's affection for his characters and his settings is clear to see. The collection is best described in terms of its constituent parts:
"A Large Measure of Snow" takes us to Kinloch in December 1967 with the town cut off by heavy snowfalls. With all roads closed and supplies running out, the only way to provide food (and drink) for the population of Kinloch is for the fishing fleet to sail to Girvan for provisions. We'll let the cover blurb pick up the story: "But the skipper of the Girl Maggie, Sandy Hoynes, has a problem. First mate Hamish has, to everyone's astonishment, been chosen as Young Fisherman of the Year by a Glasgow newspaper. Marooned in the town and with one eye on a scoop, their reporter decides to join the fishing crew on their mercy mission. The thought of the publicity - and some remuneration - delights Hoynes. But Hamish hasn't told him the whole story. As the blizzards worsen, the crew of the Girl Maggie embark upon a trip like no other, encountering ghostly Vikings, gigantic crustaceans and a helpful seagull."
"A Toast to the Old Stones" moves us forward to 1968. "The fishermen of Kinloch are preparing to celebrate the old New Year on the twelfth of January. The annual pilgrimage to the Auld Stones is a tradition that goes back beyond memory, and young Hamish, first mate on the Girl Maggie, is chuffed that he's been invited to this exclusive gathering – usually reserved for the most senior members of Kinloch's fishing community. Meanwhile, it appears that the new owners of the Firdale Hotel are intent upon turning their customers teetotal, such is the exorbitant price they are charging for whisky. Wily skipper Sandy Hoynes comes up with a plan to deliver the spirit to the thirsty villagers at a price they can afford through his connections with a local still-man."
"Ghosts in the Gloaming" is set in December 1968: "Having cheated Sandy Hoynes out of a rowing race and navigation certificate when they were young, Dreich MacCallum makes an unexpected return to Kinloch. With the Girl Maggie up on the slip awaiting urgent repairs, Hoynes takes to his bed, the memory of it all too much. When first mate Hamish persuades his skipper to get up and put the fishing boat back into the water, there are unexpected consequences that put Hoynes’ liberty and reputation at risk. Has Dreich won the day again? But the spirits of the past have yet to have their say. Upon whom will the winter sun set?"
If you are looking for sheer escapism, to be transported to a world that is long gone, yet still just about on the edge of familiarity for some amongst us, then look no further. For sheer enjoyable reading you would be hard pressed to do better.