About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith

The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith (1959) – After reading two dark contemporary mysteries by Peter May (The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man) set in the Outer Hebrides I thought of re-reading a book from another series set in the Hebrides 50 years earlier in the 1950’s. I expect it has been three decades since I read it the first time. I was charmed all over again.

Lillian Beckwith is the pen name of Lillian Comber who moved from England to the Hebrides for two decades. In a series of 7 books of biographical fiction, The Hills is Lonely being the first, she recounts her experiences with the crofters of Bruach, a fictional Hebridean isle. Her experiences are much lighter than the grim lives of May’s characters. My next post shall highlight the differences.

In The Hills is Lonely the author’s doctor has recommended that she spend time in the country where she could “rest without being too lazy, and laze without being too restive”. With enough income to live a quiet life for a time she places an ad in a periodical seeking offers of a place to stay.

She is enchanted by a letter from the Hebrides:

Dear Madam,
                        Its just now I saw your advert when I got the book for the knitting pattern I wanted from my cousin Catriona. I am sorry I did not write sooner if you are fixed up if you are not in any way fixed up I have a good house stone and tiles and my brother Ruari who will wash down with lime twice every year. Ruari is married and lives just by. She is not damp I live by myself and you could have the room that is not a kitchen and bedroom reasonable. I was in the kitchen of the lairds house till lately when he was changed God rest his soul the poor old gentleman that he was. You would be very welcomed. I have a cow also for milk and eggs and the minister at the manse will be referee if you wish such.

Yours affectionately,
Morag McDugan

PS. She is not thatched.

To a letter asking for more information on “quietness and distance from the sea” Morag provides a reply that inspires the title:

Surely its that quiet here even the sheeps on the hills is lonely and as to the sea its that near I use it myself every day for the refusals.

Who could resist such an invitation?

Miss Beckwith, a schoolteacher and a woman of mature years, is soon on her way north to the Hebrides.

Entranced and appalled, often at the same time, she is soon at home on Morag’s croft.

Miss Peckwitt, as she is dubbed by the Islanders who have the Gaelic, is welcomed despite being English though she finds herself most appreciated for the amusement she provides them as she adapts to their ways.

As an example of island life, paying a condolence visit to a departed neighbour becomes a rollicking night. Miss Peckwitt remains in the kitchen having a cup of tea while Morag goes upstairs to view the body of Ian, taken before his time at 79.

One of Ian’s sisters bemoans they had to settle for the local doctor who could not save Ian from pleurisy. She had wanted the vet who had previously cured their cow of pleurisy. She says:

“I’m tellin’ you that doctor couldna’ cure a corn on your toe without cutting off your foot and if he cut off your foot and buried it, like as not it would grown into a poisonous weed.”

After Morag comes down from the visitation Miss Peckwitt is startled when two local men wrestle the body downstairs to the parlour:

“Lachy, you damn fool! Lower your end a bit; that was his big toe nearly halfway down my throat.”

On their way home, Morag stops to remonstrate with the men digging the grave. Fortified by a bottle of whiskey they are amusing themselves by throwing pebbles at the teeth in a skull they have found while digging.

The next day at the funeral Miss Peckwitt asks Lachy why he did not take his hat off during the outdoor service. He replies:

   “Why now would we do that? Our heads were not hot!”

Persisting she mentions the undertaker took off his hat. In response:

“Aye,” answered another, “trying to shame us folk into followin’ suit so that we’d catch our death of cold and make plenty of work for him I doubt. Ach, but we’re too wise here for that sort of caper.”

And so the adventures continue whether in church or going to the cattle sale or participating in a ceilidh. A neighbour is always ready for a strupach (a cup of tea and a bite to eat).

I defy readers not to chuckle out loud. There is an abundance of humour and good cheer in the lives of the island people.


  1. Bill - This sounds like a a very rich portrait of life in the Hebrides at that time. I like the writing style and the use of dialect just from the bits you've shared. And you're right: there is something to re-discovering a book you've loved.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is a lively and engaging portrait of life in the Hebrides during the 1950's.

  2. I've heard of this author many times - those books are always around in UK charity shops - but never knew what she wrote about. Thanks for the info, this sounds charming.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I hope you try the series. It is rich in imagery.

  3. This does sound interesting and fun. I have seen it on a list of books to read for the Read Scotland challenge. Don't think I have ever run into any of her books, though.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. Paper copies would be used copies published probably decades ago. I think you would like the series if you get a chance.

  4. Many Gaels (people who speak the Scottish Gaelic language and are native to the Scottish Hebrides) absolutely hate Lillian Beckwith and her corny novels. Her portrayal of native island Scots as comical half wits and of their language and culture as something quaint and amusingly backward is deeply resented. Her English colonial attitudes should be put in the cultural deep freeze, where they belong. Uilleam Foirbeasach MacBhatair

  5. Margot Kinberg labours under the delusion that Beckwith's novels are "a rich portrait of life in the Hebrides at the time." They are not. They are a parody of island life and a gross calumny on the good folk who lived there. They owe a little to Ms Beckwith's experiences but are mostly a figment of her imagination. I was in the Hebrides at the time and often on the island of Soay where I met Ms Beckwith just after the publication of "The Hills is Lonely". I speak, therefore, from an intimate knowledge of island life (and the language and culture) and not from any dislike of Ms Beckwith as a person, though I do find her portrayals extremely patronising- but, of course, for her, they were very profitable. Uilleam