FLETCHER CHRISTIAN CONFESSES – The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid

FLETCHER CHRISTIAN CONFESSES

Fletcher Christian - The Grave TattooThe Grave Tattoo

ISBN 978-0-00-782552-3

Val McDermid

The conceit in this thriller is that William Wordsworth encountered a fugitive Fletcher Christian (hero / villain of the the mutiny against Captain William Bligh of HMS Bounty. Bligh, while captain of the ship was, confusingly, a Lieutenant by actual rank). Fletcher, a Cumbrian, wants to get his side of the events recorded. The account given here of his adventures on Pitcairn Island, and in places as far-flung as Valparaiso, the Carolinas, and the Isle of Man from where he trades as a smuggler to the gentry of Cumbria; (something of an anachronism), ‘Cumbria’ was invented in 1972. Prior to that it had been the ancient counties of Cumberland and (landlocked) Westmoreland, a large bit of Lancashire (the Furness peninsula) and a small bit of Yorkshire).

This epic poem and letters about it are alleged to have been given on the death (of the now entirely non-revolutionary Wordsworth) to the care of his maidservant Dorcas Mason (also known as ‘Mayson’ – claimed here, to be because of ignorance on the part of clerks, even clergy, but English spelling didn’t settle-down until work on the Oxford English Dictionary began. And the notional introduction of universal education in Great Britain in the early 1870s. It only became genuinely universal at the turn of the 19th / 20th century. Jane Gresham, a native of the English Lakelands and a Wordsworth scholar, lives in a south London sink estate, has to serve in a [booze-]bar in the evenings to make ends meet. She is a part-time Lecturer, simultaneously attempting to do heavy-duty research on Our William, while keeping an eye on the single-parented wild-child Tenille. She doesn’t like school, but does like reading in general and poetry in particular.

Jane Gresham travels to her home territory in search of the, possibly non-existent, Wordsworth documents. As this is a (quite thrilling) thriller a villain is also on the case. And on her trail. In fact the tranquil Lake District is crowded with villains. Some of them are false friends. One of the falsest being a Gay man with whom Jane went to the local primary school. Her jealous, sulky, elder brother is headmaster of said school. He turns out not be be a jealous as Jane thinks (it’s that sort of book). That is not a sneer, this is an absorbing tale, but possibly too complex (or, more than conceivably, one is too thick to keep up… (you are allowed to disagree with this judgement)).

My one (slightly treasonable) problem with the narrative was that it must have struck somebody in the course of two centuries that making a transcript of the Great Man’s work would have been a good idea. The reasoning will have to be withheld as the sting in the tail of the tale will be wasted. After all, a ‘Pencil Museum’ is mentioned in the course of this narrative, quills were definitely available, the metal nib and the typewriter were invented relatively shortly after Wordsworth turned his toes up.

This is an interesting and pleasurable read (lots of elderly corpses, though) and should while away some hours of the (currently grisly) weather, or that beach-wait, before the cute Latinos / Latinas happen along.

Seán McGouran

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