Almost forty years a sailor, I approached Bill Kirton's novel, The Figurehead with a degree of familiarity with tall ships, shipwrights and their tools. I expected a comfortable sojourn in the shipyards of Aberdeen. It being winter, I needed a dose of salt water to flavor the read I chose for escaping the stresses of the pre-Holiday madness. What better choice of period than the pivotal years just before sail gave way to steam; oak to steel and rivets? What better place than the wharves of Aberdeen? None I could imagine.
The Figurehead served me very well, indeed. Mr. Kirton not only spun a good tale of murder with unexpected twists and nasty turns, he did so in a masterful way. His command of the language is such that he is able to create memorable wordplay on almost every page. He illustrates his character's lives and motivations with only a dash of narrative, but each word is so well chosen that none intrude to break the spell.
The remarkable sense of immersion, into the world of the Scottish shipyard and the nature of the commerce that kept the mallets swinging was complete. Each time I laid the book down it was with the smell of tar and oakum lingering. But each time I picked it up again, I effortlessly slid right back into it. His wonderful use of the cadence of the Scottish-flavored English made the ride even more enjoyable.
His characters, from John Grant, the master carver of the book's namesake, through the apprentices and associated family members, to the shipping master himself and his unusual daughter, are each brought to life in degrees. These held my attention each step of the way and revealed those qualities necessary to full understanding in a masterfully restrained manner. At no point was I overwhelmed by the author's own voice wearing through the story and intruding. I was able to carry a sense of discovery through the entire book.
The author, a highly respected playwright, is also a novelist of rare skill and vision. The story of John Grant's driven, conflicted investigation came to a satisfying conclusion, yet in the last page, the author also managed to move this reader close to tears with an artful addition of a simple, yet revealing literary reference.
The Figurehead is a surprising, satisfying book and a memorable read for anyone with an interest in ships and the sea of course, but also for anyone who might want to see how it's done, the right way.
on April 29, 2016
I read this compelling historical mystery in what proved to be an ideal way: on a round-trip cross country ride. I was convalescing from a bad fall and my very immobility forced me to surrender to somewhat slower pacing than I generally like. On the train, with no distractions--including Wi-Fi--I was ideally suited to the 19th Century rhythms and pacing masterfully used by Bill Kirton. Not a book to be read on the fly, in short bits, but one to be savored in much larger blocks. The mystery is a good one, as you'd expect from Bill Kirton. Setting, theme and characterization--all are typically first-rate. The only thing missing, to my mind, is a steadily ratcheting note of suspense. That said, however, the book was a first-rate companion on the long journey I took. Two thumbs up for its quieter pleasures.
on August 30, 2012
Aberdeen in the 1840's, and the body of Shipwright Jimmie Crombie is found on the beach. Was it a simple drowning or was he murdered. There was more than meets the eye with Jimmie, and there were not many in Aberdeen who were sorry at his passing. Not his wife, his co-workers or employer. John Grant talented wood carver of figureheads is intrigued enough to try and solve the mystery of Jimmie.
His investigation into Jimmie's murder brings him into contact with Willian Anderson, owner of the vessel that Jimmie has been working on. William has his own secrets that he wants to hide. He also has a daughter Helen who John is very much drawn to.
There is a lot more to this fine story than murder and mayhem. The historical aspect of Scottish boatbuilding in 1840 is carefully and lovingly crafted. There is a wonderful sense of time and place.
But it was the portrayal of the female characters that I found fascinating. Elizabeth, Willian Anderson's wife and their bright and inquisitive daughter Helen. Both born into a life of privilege, who baulked against society's restrictions and limitations. Jessie and Rose at the other end of the spectrum, beaten and abused, all strong women in their own way.
This is an excellent, well paced story, well edited and a joy to read.
on March 6, 2012
If you prefer your books with action upon action upon action, I can tell you this right now - Bill Kirton is not for you. This is the author who brings back the precious tradition of classical writers, like Maupassant, Charlotte Bronte, Turgenev and Jack London, making the environment a vital character in the narrative.
The storyline in one of his latest books The Figurehead is never lost in the details. Rather, it is supported, enhanced and given depth by the meticulously constructed setting of the ship-building, fishing, and sea-going Aberdeen as it was in 1840.
The narrative spans a broad range of environments: from a deserted beach, to the ship decks, to the cabins of the working district, to a sumptuous drawing room. The set of characters populating all these places is equally impressive, and while some of them play a greater role than others, there really is no one leading man or leading lady. Everyone plays a part, everyone adds a piece to the puzzle and a brushstroke to the overall masterpiece that is The Figurehead.
Set in Aberdeen, Scotland in the mid-1800's, The Figurehead is an evocative and compelling murder mystery and I loved it. It was so interesting to travel back in time to follow the story of a carver of a ship's figurehead, who along with being a talented carver, is an amateur sleuth in his spare time. The author is gifted in painting a picture with words; I felt as though I were there right along with John as he interacted with the other characters. If you love good story-telling and murder mysteries, you will likely enjoy this novel.
on November 7, 2012
Bill Kirton's gripping novel revolves around a leisurely-paced mystery that allows readers to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of dockside life of the Aberdeen of 1840. The complex characters are skillfully drawn, and the city itself is so vividly presented that it becomes a major entity in the drama.
Violence and depravity are tempered by glimpses of devotion and budding love, and little is exactly as it seems.
on May 4, 2011
Book Review "The Figurehead" by Bill Kirton.
Publisher: Pfoxchase Publishing.
"Aberdeen, Scotland 1840--Return to an age where sail was being challenged by steam, new continents were opening, and the world was full of opportunities for people to be as good--or as evil--as they chose. When the body of a local shipwright is found on the beach, neither the customers and suppliers he cheated nor the women he seduced are surprised. But the mystery intrigues wood-carver John Grant, who decides to seek out the murderer.
His work and his investigations bring him into contact with William Anderson, a rich merchant-and his daughter Helen.
Commissioned to create a figurehead that combines the features of two women, John eventually uncovers a shocking tale of blackmail and death as he struggles to resist the pangs of unexpected love."
This book is a marvelous intertwining of crime thriller and tender romance. Author Bill Kirton has the artist's gentle touch, weaving a story rich in detail against a background of well-researched fact about the shipbuilding world of Scotland circa 1840.
The characters force you to care about them; you cannot read this author's work and not want things to go well. John Grant and his lovely Helen struggle with their feelings and because this is so well written, you the reader struggle right along with them.
Bill Kirton's plotting is meticulous, there was not one moment when I questioned the intertwining of romance and crime, it was done so cleverly, luring me into the intrigue, and fast paced delivery of a beautifully constructed crime/thriller. The romance is gentle, subtle, and satisfying to a romantic heart. Never mawkish, and not once interrupting the flow of the tapestry of words that Bill Kirton has crafted.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you are looking for a book that truly entertains you, one of those that you will not hesitate to recommend to friends, do yourself a favor, grab this book. You will not regret it.
on March 28, 2014
The Figurehead is an entertaining and pleasant historical mystery with atmosphere and character. Overall, highly recommended for those interested in this period. Just don't expect Patrick O'Brian authenticity or naval ferocity and you won't be disappointed. Huge swaths of passively voiced prose are more than offset by excellent dialogue and period description. Small quibbles regarding the poor formatting, lack of functioning TOC on the Kindle version.
on November 28, 2011
Bill Kirton's prolific releases demonstrate that he is a skilled weaver of fiction, knitting diverse characters, settings and plotlines into engaging, expertly crafted stories. Set in the ship yards of Aberdeen Scotland, all of the various threads of this story revolve around John Grant, and the figurehead he is commissioned to carve. Among these threads are a murder mystery, and a romance. As John Grant questions the murder of shipwright Jimmy Crombie, a man as influential in the local community as he was reviled, John finds that the murder is entangled with the merchant who commissioned the figurehead and his daughter. Throughout the entire novel, we have the atmosphere of morning fogs and salt sea air, the pinnacle of the ship building industry at the time when sails were being challenged by steam.
I would not hesitate to recommend this or any other books by this author. Bill Kirton weaves a fine net of words that will keep you trapped from the beginning to the end.
on September 6, 2012
I thought this was very well written, I really felt that I was taken back to Victorian Aberdeen through his rich descriptions. It really came alive for me! I didn't pick the ending either, which was great.
I think the romance element was perhaps the weakest point plot wise. Initially, I didn't really feel there was much chemistry between the love interest characters. I think this chemistry became better developed as the novel progressed, and had an interesting and satisfying denouement.
I would recommend this book!