The first title, GULF is a tale of our times. A young American lass puts a message in a bottle as part of a class project and years later it fetches up on a wild Highland beach in Scotland. What develops is both a charming and ironical story made more so by the use of dialect. This at no time compromises understanding and the lilt and cadence is implicit in the reading. If you have ever visited the Highlands of Scotland, you'll find this akin to a return trip.
ORRA LOON tells the poignant story of a young orphan's search for identity in an unjust world.
BONNY IN BLACK relates the story of John, an adolescent low in self-esteem who nevertheless accomplishes much by dilligence. As the cooper reaches adulthood, he marries Mary and finds work at a distillery. Becoming too fond of the product and at odds with Mary's family, he resolves his difficulties in an ultimately destructive way. In this story the characterisation is drawn very finely. Bruce has the knack of sketching with economy, no extraneous puff and every word counting.
In TARRADALE'S OPTION rural life in Scotland comes to the fore with this tale of poaching, peat, love and gentle revenge. Written in low-key style, the last line comes as a shock, yet provokes laughter. Oh, how cruel!!
With INSULATED CONDUCTOR Bruce moves to London and to a fly-boy with street cred who works as an inspector hunting down employee fraud for London Transport Buses. Here I'd guess the author knows his job since his description of people, attitudes, routes and scams is spot on. Romance gets in the way of the job, but how is Gina creaming London Transport? I'll leave you to find out; the lady is ingenious.
Still in London, POTHOLES AND SPEED brings Duncan who is trying to build up his road haulage company and avoid crooked associations. For self-starters in this business, it's always difficult. It fell off the back of a lorry has been a cliche since they were invented. Again Bruce's ear for dialogue and dialect comes to the fore; he has the argot in the right sequences. Guys and Dolls it aint; this is realspeak to be heard anywhere on the streets of the capital. Does Duncan escape? Find out.
More of Duncan in DODGY NIGHT OUT. Cleverly observed, this is a vignette of how ordinary people react outside the boom and bang of Hallywood treatments.
FRIENDLY FIRE is set in Jersey. Although the island is part of the United Kingdom it's still a land of ex-pats, a kind of miniature Happy Valley where sun, sex, adultery and money all contribute to the melee and can lead to a crime passionel. A hotpot of mistaken motives and deeds with a kick at the end.
Don't get friendly with Jim, the FIXER. This is a health warning. A truly creepy and sinister story that would have delighted Poe if he'd been around today. This is a particular gem because it's very difficult in a short story to convey the ideas and emotions propelling the plot. Bruce achieves this, far more than adequately, by crafting each word and wasting none.
With RECEIVER we're back in London and listening to a conversation between an older and younger woman. It isn't until the last few sentences it becomes clear the dialogue you've read is full of reverses and euphemisms for what is really happening. An amusing tale of a biter, bit.
BOOKIE'S RUNNER is a period piece which describes the activities of a man with hopes for the future who collects bets to back horses, dogs or whatever is running.
JERUSALEM starts at a drying out clinic for alcoholics. Group therapy is not One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - more a meeting of bewildered individuals wondering why they're watching a video in Welsh language with sub-titles and doing exercises more fitted to a school of drama. From Jerusalem, Blake's immortal song, Bruce extrapolates the story of laughing Mary and wealthy Bartholomew and the sublimal meaning for the becomes a truism.
MY BROTHER'S KEEPER is about two lonely boys growing up in an orphanage. The narrator becomes a clerk in a whisky distillery and both young men by seventeen years of age are hardened drinkers. Sometimes living together in Scotland and London, in between adventures alone, the attitudes of alcoholics to non-drinkers are succinctly described. As for the effect upon marriage and families, this is achieved in very few words that say it all. The final sentence will have great resonance for any recovering alcoholic.