A Scottish Christmas Breakfast

Another entry for our ‘Xmas in books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’ meme – as regularly run during December.

If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page.

Today, our favourite 1920s sleuth enjoys breakfast with the common fisherfolk.


Dandy Gilver and the Reek of Red Herrings

published 2014

breakfast Dandy Herrings

[1930, Aberdeenshire, Christmas Day]

The next morning, whether from devotion to the church, snobbish pandering to the doctor or some faint recognition in her niggardly soul that Christmas was a feast – albeit a southern, popish, almost heathen one – Miss Clatchie produced bacon and egg along with the solid porridge and misjudged the tea to the lavish extent that every other guest got almost a whole second cup. So what with that, the extra warmth that six more bodies brought to the front room, and the presents which were exchanged, there was something closer to a festival atmosphere than Miss Clatchie’s establishment had, I daresay, ever seen before.

The Lamont boys were given books by their father, mittens by their mother, and envelopes containing postal orders by absent but generous godparents, judging by the way their eyes danced as they read the numbers. Mrs Lamont had knitted her husband a curious garment, something like the neck portion of a jersey, which could be tucked into a coat to take the place of a scarf.

breakfast Dandy Herrings 2

It seemed an odd affectation for Aberdeenshire, serving to make the wearer look more cosy than he could possibly be and, besides, it was not much of a testament to married bliss to knit one’s mate rather less than a quarter of a nice warm jersey. But then Hugh’s present to me, handed over before we parted, though opened only now, was yet another of his mother’s hideous jewellery, which he had been doling out for birthdays and Christmas every year since she died.

breakfast Dandy Herrings 4

commentary: Dandy and her work colleague Alec are off on one of their investigations: in a small fishing town they are staying in a hideously uncomfortable boarding-house. Terrible storms have brought other families down from their unsafe houses – hence the slightly more seasonal cheer.

I love Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver books. They always have fascinating and well-researched settings, and this one (though lacking the glamour and romance of some of the others) is full of extraordinary details of the lives of the local people, and of the strange crime they have come to unearth.

Hugh is Dandy’s husband, who is spending Christmas at a shooting party with their sons: everyone seems very happy with this arrangement. The relationship between Dandy and Alec is perfectly respectable, though of endless interest to the reader.

And sadly, Dandy’s maid Grant does not feature in this book except in the most off-stage way.

There is a lot of emphasis on the weather in December, and the seasonal round of the fisherfolk – Christmas seems underplayed, and some of the Scots stress that Hogmanay (New Year) is more important to them. But in the end Christmas will play a big part in the final scenes of the book, in a most unexpected and discomforting way…

The stories and lives of the women who gut the herring are endlessly fascinating, and Catriona McPherson does them full justice. There are plenty of pictures of them available online: I picked this one more or less at random, but would recommend anyone interested to go and see what is out there.

The top picture is Breakfast by Edouard Vuillard, from the Athenaeum website.

And I was glad to provide a useful pattern should you wish to knit an inadequate sweater for your spouse (it may be too late for this year, but now you’ve got a whole year for knitting).


  1. I do not knit for my spouse anymore. Hell, I don't even darn his socks.

    1. Heavens, how modern you are! Those ways really are gone. I think I found that knitting for children was so much easier than for adults, because the surface area was so much smaller.

  2. I like the Dandy Gilver series, too, Moira. I like the wit in the novels, as well as the sense of place and time. McPherson does such a good job, too, I think, of conveying the local culture without going into a lot of burdensome detail. And then there's Dandy herself (Me? Find a strong female character appealing? Who'd have thought?...).

    1. You and me both Margot. Dandy is particularly good because she is unusual and interesting as well as being a strong woman...

  3. Not a series for me, it's been said before I know

  4. I have wanted to continue this series but the books have not been available at reasonable prices (for me) here. I am at The Proper Treatment of Bloodstains and it looks like I may be able to get a copy of that one. I am planning to put in some kind of buying embargo or limit so I better sneak it in soon. I have always loved the cover of The Proper Treatment of Bloodstains.

    1. The covers are marvellous, I always think. Oh, now I'm wondering, are they the same in the US? There is a new one out that I haven't read yet.

    2. That is a good question. I did not like some of the early covers, but I do think they were same in US and UK. And it looks like Proper Treatment of Bloodstains has the same cover both places.

    3. And I forgot to say I have already ordered the book. I just have to fit it into my reading, I have so much I want to read this year.

    4. I don't think you'll regret it - though it is hard to fit everything in isn't it?

  5. Such a wonderful blog. Hope someone will give me a booksoon :) Congrats!


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