Leonard Low, Scotland’s Untold Stories (Guardbridge Books, 2020)
Imagine sitting in front of a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night in Scotland. The wind howls around the house, rain batters the windows, and your favourite uncle, sitting beside the fire, the light sparkling through his whisky glass, says “I have a story for you”. That should set the scene to read Leonard Low’s Scotland’s Untold Stories, a collection of dark tales from Scotland’s murky past gleaned from sources long since forgotten.
Low tells stories of a warrior with an iron hand, an expensive dram of whisky, cannibals, executions by drowning, duels, witch hunters, seers, a curious jail cell in a bridge, a botched execution, pirates, the white slave trade, John Paul Jones, early balloon flights, early lighthouses, a curling disaster, a brave death at Waterloo, graverobbers, wife selling, a church disaster and one in a quarry, a riot in a church, dream evidence in a murder investigation, German U-Boats, an outbreak of St. Vitus Dance in Leuchars, a lucky escape from the Moors Murderers, and Jack the Ripper in the East Neuk of Fife? Surely not!
It is customary to highlight the best and weakest stories in a compendium, but in this book Low’s selection is of consistently high quality, though credit must be given to the way he tells them. And that is also how they should be read; with an ear for cadence and rhythm as if listening to the storytellers of old. This is no accident, however, because Low has done his homework in the archives and on the ground, and he helpfully lists his sources and books for further reading where available. You can also visit many of the sites where these stories happened. Low may lean towards the romantic at times, but this is Scotland after all where we treat the darkness then with more of a weather eye now. Anyone interested in Scotland’s history will appreciate and enjoy Low’s stories and ask when volume 2 is coming out.