Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Beast from the Sky by Steven Donkin

Where can you find more legends than in Ireland and Scotland? This story takes place in 1950, the main characters are seniors, the mannerisms of speech are true to time and place. The people involved are Scottish, Irish and American. This is a story "written" by Gertrude from Ireland, found  by her great-great nephew and presented in Gertrude's own words.

Though presented as based on fact, the book is fiction. I enjoyed reading it as based on a legend, a creation supposedly told by Gertrude. She is heading to Scotland with some visiting American friends, embarking on a relaxing visit to another of her old friends from the war, Marit Baltry. Considering this sparsely populated coastal area, it is not so strange that there would be legends. But within days the population has grown as a circus comes to the tiny village, while at the same time, scientists have rented a carriage house to do "experiments" at Marit's closest neighbour's home. Quite a crowd to suddenly appear in a somewhat unknown locale.

Gert and her friends immediately hear of the legend when they take a break at the local pub before carrying on to Marit's home. The legend has been resurrected upon a mysterious case of a circus performer balloonist who has disappeared from the high roof of the home of the widow Marit, and the disappearance has sparked rumours of the return of  the "Beast from the Sky." The tale of the disappearance immediately brings the sleuthing instincts of Gertrude and her friends from earlier adventures to the fore. Henry and Judith, the Americans, decide they must solve this mystery. The legend itself goes back in history to a sect of Druids who occupied Groll Island, believed to house the Beast. The Druids died out long ago. The Beast was said to be guarding a treasure of some kind.

It happens that the island "home" of the Beast is part of Margit's land. That and the disappearance from her home make this all-too-tasty a morsel to investigate, much to the displeasure of Inspector McInnes, and the discomfort of Gert, who is inveigled into pursuing the mystery. What is even more enticing is that the first person to have encountered the Beast and kept a journal was Lord Baltry, ancestor to Marit's deceased husband. Cryptic references were made to the possible location of the treasure. Legend has it that anyone who sees the Beast will soon be dead, and this certainly seems to be the case over the decades with few daring to defy the Beast.

What are these people seeing, and what is killing them or causing their complete disappearance? The very small islands around Groll Island certainly appear to be uninhabitable. Tempestuous seas and rocky shores preclude that on all but Groll Island. Where the Druids lived in their insular community, there are only ruins. About the only way one would actually be able to view the vista of Groll would be from overhead, and there lies a clue to be deciphered.

An interesting mixture of what is in the eye of the beholder; is the Beast real, and who knows but isn't telling? Steven Donkin has presented an unusual and imaginative story, I might have preferred a sharper ending, but perhaps it is leading into a further adventure. Overall, a tantalizing look back in time only to find it is now.

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