Official Review: Deacon Brodie: A Double Life

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Official Review: Deacon Brodie: A Double Life

Post by H0LD0Nthere » 11 May 2014, 13:48

[Following is the official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Deacon Brodie: A Double Life" by David Hutchison.]

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Deacon William Brodie, a colorful character from the 1700s, is brought to life in this historical novel. It’s a great introduction to a notorious Scotsman for people like me who have never heard of him.

It is the 1700s in religious, moralistic Edinburgh, Scotland. “Deacon” Brodie (so called because he is the head of a cabinetmakers’ guild) is a respectable gentleman. He hails from a well-known Edinburgh family, dresses fashionably, and sits on the City Council. And by night, he is a gambling addict and a burglar.

In fact, Brodie is what we would now call an adrenaline junkie. As he remarks in Chapter 3, “Walking the razor’s edge, that’s the draw.”

When the novel opens, Brodie has long been bored with the class, trade, and wealth into which he was born. He has a secret common-law wife whom he must hide from his relatives. He spends his nights feeding his addiction to gambling on cards, dice, and cockfights. This sort of double life he has already been living for years. But before the book’s prologue is over, Brodie has taken his risk-taking to a new level and begun robbing his fellow City Councilmen. He uses his locksmith business to obtain copies of their keys (and sometimes sells the victims a better lock in the days following the break-in).

Will Brodie is living two lives. Will he be able to maintain both? Take a guess from your own experience, or buy and read the book to see exactly how one life wins out over the other.

One question that I did not ask myself until I had finished the book: Hmm, could this novel be a whitewash? Answer: probably. The author is clearly in sympathy with Brodie and seems to admire the Councilman for his many heists. We are never shown any person being financially ruined by a theft of Brodie’s. All we are shown is comical righteous indignation on the part of easily hateable stuffed-shirt characters. Hutchison seems to feel that the Deacon is a bit of a Robin Hood, even though the profits from the crimes are going to pay Brodie’s gambling debts, not to help the poor.

The idea that the book might be a whitewash was confirmed by a quick Internet search. In the book, Brodie is devoted to his secret common-law wife, Jean, and his seven-year-old daughter by her. In real life, apparently, he had two mistresses (who did not know about each other) and five children between them. So from a feminist perspective at least, the real Brodie was no saint. However, like many great criminals of literature, Brodie has a lot of style, panache and gumption. It’s hard not to be charmed by him, even as we smack our foreheads over the stupid decisions he makes.

Despite its being a whitewash, I give this novel three out of four stars for the way it transports us to sixteenth-century Edinburgh, with its “lads” and “lasses,” its “tenements” and “closes,” its wigs and waistcoats, its bright blue skies, chill mists and steep hills.

***
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Post by davidh » 24 May 2014, 12:17

Thank you for this review - for me, getting three out of four stars for a first novel is very encouraging.

There are a couple of points which I would like to address. The reviewer has mentioned "whitewash" (and then, made an argument for using the term). I would point out that, although based on fact, this work is a novel - fiction rather than non-fiction - writing of only one of Will Brodie's mistresses rather than two; one child, rather than five, was fictional streamlining. There is a non-fiction book here, but I wrote fiction.

I would argue that, the "feminist perspective" has no place in a novel set in the Scotland of 1788. And, the last paragraph mentions "sixteenth-century Edinburgh" - 1788 is eighteenth century.

The points above are carping ones - I am pleased with this review and that the reviewer was charmed by Will Brodie :D .

David Hutchison
Deacon Brodie: A Double Life

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Post by ALRyder » 24 May 2014, 18:02

This actually looks super interesting. I usually really enjoy historical fiction, taking into consideration that they're not entirely based on fact. You're right about a feminist perspective having no place in 1788 Scotland, but in all honesty those notions are pretty hard to drop living in this day and age David. I will definitely be looking into your book sometime in the future though.

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Post by kio » 24 May 2014, 18:37

ALRyder wrote:This actually looks super interesting. I usually really enjoy historical fiction, taking into consideration that they're not entirely based on fact. You're right about a feminist perspective having no place in 1788 Scotland, but in all honesty those notions are pretty hard to drop living in this day and age David. I will definitely be looking into your book sometime in the future though.


I agree the feminist perspective would be a little out of place, but admittedly, this does sound like a fun read. I'll have to add it to my way too long TBR list :)
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Post by ALRyder » 24 May 2014, 18:41

Yes, the !!!NEVER ENDING!!! TBR list. My kindle has actually started slowing down...I'm pretty sure it's just overloaded. Lol.

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Post by davidh » 24 May 2014, 19:53

ALRyder wrote:You're right about a feminist perspective having no place in 1788 Scotland, but in all honesty those notions are pretty hard to drop living in this day and age David. I will definitely be looking into your book sometime in the future though.


I agree. With 'early readers' I often came across a reluctance to let the 21st century (and its thinking) be suspended. I suppose the point is that, in my writing, I didn't quite transport these readers to 1788 :( .

If you get the opportunity to look into Deacon Brodie, I would welcome any feedback.

Regards,

David.

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Post by davidh » 24 May 2014, 19:57

kio wrote:this does sound like a fun read. I'll have to add it to my way too long TBR list :)


Thank you . . . but please put it at the top of your TBR list :D .

Regards,

David.

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Post by H0LD0Nthere » 28 May 2014, 14:58

Ooo, shoot. Did I write "sixteenth-century" instead of "eighteenth-century"? Dang, that's embarrassing. I did the math backwards.

David, every novel has a perspective. Yours is that Deacon Brodie was a good guy. I get that. And, I guess you are right in saying that it's not quite appropriate to call a fictionalized novel a "whitewash," because it does not claim to be a history book. However, you did use the man's real name. If a similar book (or film) took similar liberties with a recent historical figure, such as Clinton or Bush, it would definitely be called a whitewash. So I guess there's a fine line here. For many readers, they will know nothing about Deacon Brodie except what they read in your book. That's why I mentioned his real-life foibles.

As for the stuff at the end, where you extrapolate a certain legend (you know the one I mean), I could not mention that because it would constitute a spoiler. But I purely enjoyed it.

Finally, I certainly don't expect a Red-Tent style feminist novel about ... (let's see...) EIGHTeenth century .... Edinburgh. I get that it was a very different world back then, and people did not think in our terms. That said, there were actual women living in Scotland back then, and they were actually harmed by certain behaviors and helped by others. I doubt that the real Brodie's two mistresses would have been thrilled to find out about each other. That's wrong whether it happens before or after the feminist revolution. The fact that the real Brodie lived this way tells us something about his character, which is very different from the character you portrayed of a devoted family man who fails to marry his mistress only because social mores forbid a marriage between classes. Finding this out, in turn made me doubt the entire character of Brodie as you portrayed him ... or more accurately, not doubt, but realize just how fictional your Brodie was. Pointing this out was the quickest and easiest way to let the readers in on my realization, and "feminist" was shorthand for "he had no problem with using women."

That said, I did enjoy your book. The language of the characters was terrific. Thanks again.

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Post by davidh » 29 May 2014, 11:46

Thank you for the follow-up to your review (and my carping). I sense there could be a fine ‘discussion’ on some of the points you have raised, but that’s not for this forum :) .

I do think Deacon Brodie was a (misguided) “good guy”, although that’s not quite the term I would apply to him. In writing his story, I tried to understand the dichotomy of his life (growing up in Edinburgh I had known the enigma for years, and that he had been the blueprint for Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde). There was very possibly an opportunity to explore his ‘social behaviour’ in greater depth but, as you know, that was an opportunity I didn’t take. Reducing his two mistresses to one – like reducing his five trial judges to one – were decisions I made as I judged my own writing abilities, nothing else.

Finally, despite any ‘ranking’ my novel may get, reaching a reader is a new and joyful thing for me, and I am delighted that you enjoyed reading Deacon Brodie: A Double Life. Again, many thanks for your review.

Best wishes,

David.

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