A couple of months ago, standing at the bookshop counter waiting to pay for my armloads of books, the owner saw me looking in the general direction of this book placed several rows away, and gently but firmly, pushed it within my direct gaze. My, "How are these books? Haven't heard of them..", was answered with an instant pair of raised eyebrows and the name - "A.J.Cronin" said in such a defiant and incredulous tone, that I sheepishly pushed the book towards the burgeoning pile already next to the cash register. And it was with that unsaid recrimination of "How can you not have heard of A.J.Cronin" that I was tentatively and sheepishly introduced to Dr Finlay.
The volume itself consisted of two two series, Adventures of a Black Bag, and Dr. Finlay of Tannochbrae, with stories divided into short chapters. As expected, each story deals with a medical issue and circumstances around it, most often lighthearted and mirthful but a few also showing surprising depth of understanding of the malice in human nature. At no instance though was the medical detail the fulcrum of the case, rather it was the social circumstances around the secondary character (Dr Finlay being the primary, the patient was always relegated to peripheral secondary reference within the story) that the short story revolved. Having plodded through a couple of the stories randomly selected, it was 'Pantomime' and the story of Letty le Brun, sarcastically needled and subtly bullied to a fateful and fatal climax, that I started paying attention to the writing. The stories were slightly reminiscent of that other famous doctor, James Herriot, but the writing was less enticing. I understand these stories were set during the inter-war years, and perhaps I would have enjoyed them more a few decades ago as I went through a phase of reading anything and everything set in Britain of the inter-war era. At this point, these stories were just a tad simple for my liking. In addition, the two series were confusing in terms of Dr Finlay's personal life, with a number of love interests flitting in and out as tangential characters. The Tannochbrae chronicles were rampant with Scottish slangs and sentences, and I have to admit I amused myself by reading them aloud and thinking whether reading the words written as such made me sound Scottish -
"Ay! Ye'll get nae Russian fish guts frae me."
- and suchlike!
A.J.Cronin isn't particularly kind to the female characters in the stories, making them out to be silly, simple and often stupid and spiteful. All in all, I think I will read-up a bit more on A. J. Cronin himself, and at some point will check out the BBC series on these stories, being a glutton for old Brit series as a sort of remembrance of the half a decade spent there a lifetime ago. As for picking-up further chronicles of Dr Finlay, I think I shall desist.