Set in two times, the early 1960s and 2012, Tom Hubbard’s The Lucky Charm of Major Bessop is sometimes a straightforward narrative and sometimes told through the voices of different characters. The story revolves around Mauletoun House, a private school for boys, and the events which took place there in the 1960s, as witnessed, surmised or remembered, depending on the points of view of the different characters. Both the surrounding countryside and the muffled memories of the individuals reveal or point to the dark heart of the mystery round which the characters and monologues circle, without ever quite spelling out what happened to Andy Burt, a pupil at the school. It’s mentioned early on that something nasty did happen to the boy, and we guess the worst. The Lucky Charm of Major Bessop can be seen as a trial, with the different characters as witnesses, giving their statements. Billy Torrance, a misfit among a buildingful of oddities – well read, loves classical music, hates games. Gayle, an assistant nurse from the southern states of the USA, who rhapsodises about the Scottish countryside, the ‘radiant days’. Cathy, the school matron and wife of Colonel Malory, an experienced teacher. These three are perhaps the most ‘normal’ of the characters, and show compassion. Major Bessop, a young teacher, is also concerned about Burt; much later we discover, through his relationship with Gayle, that he is a deeply troubled man, suffering from his war experience. The warning signs re Burt’s bullying treatment from the other boys come early, from the concern voiced by Bessop, Malory and, later, Gayle. But the headmaster, Baxendale, does not take their concerns seriously. The novel is described on the back cover as ‘a grotesque mystery of Fife’. As well as the meaning of odd, bizarre and imbued with ominous tension, the word grotesque apparently derives from the Greek krypte, a hidden place. And in this house and school, in the setting of a pleasant rural landscape, both the physical and psychological terrains turn out to be far from safe and normal. The landscape and the characters can, at times and in a certain light, change into something other, become strange and disquieting; the surface protective layer of both earth and psyche is revealed to be deceptively thin. Sinkholes open up, and there are plenty of hidden places in this rural idyll of ‘radiant days’. Almost all the characters have something to hide, despite their surface willingness, even eagerness, to reveal themselves. Interspersed with philosophical musings, literary references, humour and passages of poetic description, The Lucky Charm of Major Bessop draws you in and keeps you guessing, right to the end.
The Lucky Charm of Major Bessop by Tom Hubbard can be purchased at Gracenotes Publications
You can visit Morelle Smith’s blog about writing and travelling: Rivertrain