Although the nineteenth-century elite looked on the Highlands and Islands as a sporting paradise, for the indigenous population it was a turbulent place. Rather than a rural idyll, the glens and moors were home to poachers and whisky smugglers, while the towns were always ready to explode into riot and disorder. Even the Hebridean seas had their dangers while the islands seethed with discontent. Whisky Wars, Riots and Murder reveals the reality behind the facade of romantic tartan and vast estates. Augmenting the usual quota of petty thefts and assaults, the Highlands had a coastal town where riots were endemic, an island rocked by a triple murder, a mob besieging the jail at Dornoch and religious troubles in the Black Isle. Add the charming thief who targeted tourist hotels and an Exciseman who was hanged for forgery, and the hidden history of the Highlands is unearthed in all its unique detail.
My primary interest is historical, either fiction or non fiction, but I can enjoy most anything from Jane Austin to Kipling to J K Rowling. I have been very quiet on this site, but I think I might be a bit more active now. I also enjoy the stimulation of meeting people and finding out about them.
This is partly my fault because I didn't read the description properly before buying this book. I had expected a proper true-crime book that takes a handful of cases and covers them quite in-depth but this books takes certain types of crime (smuggling, murder, robbery etc.), sometimes with a short introduction (if it's about something like whisky-smuggling and rioting which was connected with the exact circumstances of life in the Highlands) and then gives samples of a lot of crimes. Sometimes the stories are not much more than anecdotes, only one or two pages long. I would have been fine with that even if it wasn't what I expected but I missed more background-information on everything. As said some of the chapters have a short introduction about what drove the people to this but most of the time I felt like I was missing the bigger picture. Was this a common crime around this time or something that only happened rarely? One chapter talks about somebody being fined 1 Pound for a crime and then somebody being fined 50 Pound for a very similar crime. The author acknowledges that the latter was a lot but there is no try to explain this huge difference between both, if that was a common occurence and so on. As it is this book is just a collection of facts without any effort to interpret them or give the reader any information about what they mean.
This is not your average 'true crime' book where the author goes into tedious detail about every aspect of the crime and the criminal's life. Rather it is an overview of crime in the 19th century Highlands, with small vignettes about selected crimes, and what were then considered as crimes. It may be a bit difficult for non-Scots to understand, as it covers such a vast variety of activity, from resistance to landlordism to religious difference, but to a native of the North of Scotland, like me, it is a gem of a book that shows how the Highlanders coped with changing social conditions. It includes whisky smuggling, the inevitable murder, tinkers, the Clearances and riots in Wick, which surely must have been the riot capital of the north. Each chapter covers a different topic in a very easy-to-read style that made this book enjoyable.