Authors: Dorothy Dunnett
Tags: #Operation Nassau
First published in 1971
© Estate of Dorothy Dunnett; House of Stratus 1971-2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The right of Dorothy Dunnett to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.
This edition published in 2012 by House of Stratus, an imprint of
Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,
Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.
Typeset by House of Stratus.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.
ISBN: 0755131568 EAN 9780755131563
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This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author’s imagination.
Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.
The Dorothy Dunnett Society can be contacted via
Dorothy, Lady Dunnett, was born in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1923, theonly daughter of an engineer, Alexander Halliday, and his wife Dorothy. Whilstgifted academically and musically, she was not encouraged to further hertalents by attending university, and instead joined the civil service inScotland as an assistant press officer. In 1946, she married Alastair Dunnett, who was at the time the chief pressofficer to the Secretary of State for Scotland. He went on to become editor of
newspaper, whilst she later worked on a statistics handbook forthe Board of Trade.
After a brief spell in Glasgow, the couple settled in Edinburgh where theirhome became a centre for hospitality and entertaining, mostly in support ofScottish art and culture. Dunnett had also taken evening classes at theEdinburgh College of Art and the Glasgow School of Art, and from 1950 onwardsshe established a prominent career as a portrait painter, being exhibited atboth the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy. She was also an accomplished sculptress.
Her interest in writing developed during the 1950’s. Her own tastestook her to historical novels and it was her husband who eventually suggestedshe write one of her own, after she had complained of running out of readingmaterial. The result was
The Game of Kings
, an account of political andmilitary turmoil in sixteenth-century Scotland. Whilst turned down forpublication in the UK, it was eventually published in the USA where it becamean instant best seller. Other titles, such as the
series followed and which established her internationalreputation.
She also successfully turned her hand to crime, with the
series. He is aneccentric artist, famous for bifocals, and of course amateur detective. All ofthe titles in the series somehow also feature the yacht ‘Dolly’, despiteranging widely in location from Scotland, to Ibiza, Rome, Marrakesh, Canada,Yugoslavia, Madeira and The Bahamas. There is plenty of sailing lore for theenthusiast, but not so much it detracts from the stories genre; crime. Each ofthem is told by a woman whose profession explains her role in the mystery andwe learn very little about
himself, save for the fact he issomewhat dishevelled in appearance.
Dorothy Dunnett somehow fitted in her many careers andvoluntary work, along with supporting her husband’s endeavours, yet still foundthe time to correspond widely with her readers from all over the world, and was oftendelighted to meet with them personally. She held the rare distinction of havinga Dorothy Dunnett Readers’ Association formed during her lifetime andcollaborated with it as much as possible. A writer who has been described as one of great wit, charm, andhumanity, yet whose work displayed toughness, precision, and humour, she wasappointed to an OBE in 1992 for services to literature and became Lady Dunnettin 1995 when her husband was knighted. She died in 2001, being survived by hertwo sons; Ninian and Mungo.
I shall call it, with levity, the bifocals syndrome. And yet, I am deeply disturbed. Why should my professional life be cast into chaos by a simple case of presbyopia, adequately safeguarded? I might by now have finished my paper on Frederickson’s
; I might be a rheumatism research fellow at Leeds Public Dispensary; I might at least be part-time Medical Officer at Holloway Prison.
Why instead am I lying under this palm tree, watching a banana bird?
Because of a killing, you might correctly reply. A killing, and an individual with the classification (creeping, aquatic) of Johnson Johnson.
That was a joke. As a medical student at Edinburgh University I considered such lapses beneath me. I did not attend Union dances or Christmas balls. I noticed that those who did so were the same as those who vanished for coffee during whole-body dissection, leaving me to do the work of three on each side of a male Blumer’s shelf. They were the same who turned over in their sleep when the bell rang from the delivery-room, where I alone walked barefoot through the tunnel and stood in my pyjamas, rapt and shivering, while the consultant discoursed on the unhurried arrival of triplets.
None of this, I must truthfully say, sprang from any feeling whatever of service to ailing humanity. I did not become B. Douglas MacRannoch, M.B., from any love of my fellow men, all of whom I held in well-founded disdain. I achieved it as a means to a research fellowship which would enable me to get shut of my father.
My mother died at my birth, a woman of limited impact, leaving me the only offspring and heir of a madman.
That to others this man appeared sane was not the least of my undeserved burdens. Christened James Ulric MacRannoch, he is known simply as The MacRannoch: a title indicating that, in the eyes of the Lord Lyon King of Arms, he is forty-fifth Chief of Clan Rannoch and Keeper of Rannoch Castle, Argyll, Scotland.
In youth short and dark, like myself. The MacRannoch is now white-haired, volatile, and subject to nasal polyps and asthma in winter, during the Perth bull sales, and when the stock-market wavers. Until recently, he has assuaged his martyrdom happily by going abroad every autumn and letting the castle to foreigners.
The day came, however, when I received a cable at the British Research Council, Cambridge, where, fully qualified, I was peacefully investigating the habits of a Coxsackie-B virus. My father’s condition had become strikingly poorer. A Scottish summer was out of the question. He must leave the country. He must remove, perhaps for good, to a warm, even climate, such as the British West Indies.
Neither he nor his specialist quacks would be shaken. I gave up my job with the B.R.C., packed my cases and those of my father, and in a short space of time was installed, irrespective of my personal feelings, as Medical Officer in the United Commonwealth Hospital, Nassau, in the self-governing British island group off the Florida coast called the Bahamas.
As a literate member of society you are not, I take it, familiar with skin diving, rum punches, calypso night-clubs, surfing, dancing, gambling and lying oiled in the sun. That some people do so indulge, many of them failed medical students, is fortunate for the Bahamians, who have no taxes, a warm climate and small scope or aptitude for intensive cultivation and industry. Sunshine, palm trees and hibiscus flowers naturally improve the exterior appearance of any hospital, and made soothing the drive to my work, in the 1961 Ford Anglia I purchased for twenty pounds from an outgoing houseman. To a trained mind, however, a hospital is a hospital wherever it may be; the work was routine; my C.M.O. and fellow doctors were not unduly conversational, and I was able to play an excellent game of golf almost every day. My father’s health improved, and he began to talk about bridges.
My father’s paranoia, to which I have made slight reference before, takes the form of an absolute and unreasoning obsession to do with the building of bridges. Its focal point is the family seat, a small but finely preserved twelfth-century castle on a sea rock off the west coast of Scotland. My father’s object in life, apart from corresponding with and dispensing hospitality to the world population of exiled MacRannochs, has been to form a permanent bridge from the castle across to the shore.
It is not only that he is a martyr to an abysmal and incurable seasickness. There is a family legend that the thirteenth MacRannoch of MacRannoch on building the castle, did indeed achieve such a bridge, with the help of the fairies. And what the thirteenth MacRannoch could do, the forty-fifth is determined to surpass.
It has brought him nothing but trouble. The seabed is deep; the currents strong and irregular. Every bridge my father has built so far has been a failure: and indeed his personal involvement on the day the fifth bridge fell down resulted in tragedy. Two days later, the melancholy news was broken to my father in hospital that I, then a child at school, was and must remain for ever the sole heir of the MacRannochs.
His asthma dates from that day.
I was giving some thought to his condition as I stood on the upgoing escalator in Kennedy Airport, after some months’ residence in Nassau with my father. Visits to New York from the United Commonwealth Hospital are not frequent, but an interesting renal case due for specialist care had clashed with a diver flown in with the bends. One of my fellow doctors, working extremely hard, managed to clear his own schedule in order to fly with the diver to Miami, while I was asked to take the renal by air to New York. It was winter.
The social structure of America is not one of which I approve. True, in season Fifth Avenue rings with the cries and the bells of charity-seeking Father Christmases, each with his chimney, and the Salvation Army sings and plays lustily at each corner where the traffic controls command so succinctly: Walk. Don’t Walk.