Dr Finlay's Casebook by A J Cronin

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Dr Finlay's Casebook by A J Cronin

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Melony Sanders
Reviewed by Melony Sanders
Summary: A great selection of stories featuring Dr Finlay in pre-War Scotland.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: June 2010
Publisher: Birlinn
ISBN: 978-1841588544

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Most people will have heard of Dr Finlay, although they may not be entirely sure why - A J Cronin's stories of a fictional doctor in pre-War Scotland have been televised over the years, most recently in the nineties when David Rintoul starred as Dr Finlay. Although fictional, A J Cronin, who died in 1981, was himself a doctor and has apparently based some of Finlay's experiences on his own. This omnibus is made up of two books by Cronin, Dr Finlay of Tannochbrae, published in 1978 and Adventures of a Black Bag, published in 1943, both collections of short stories.

Dr Finlay can be best described as a combination of Sherlock Holmes and James Herriot. Although a doctor, he has a lot in common with Sherlock Holmes, using his guile and intelligence to solve his patients' problems. However, there is a thread of humour running through all of the stories that are very reminiscent of Yorkshire vet, James Herriot - it is quite likely to be the injection of local colour. At the time the stories were set, some time before the Second World War, a local doctor had a great deal of sway in the area of his practice and many of his patients looked to him for advice in all sorts of matters.

Finlay, however, is no perfect specimen of mankind. He has plenty of faults, including a horrendous temper that manages to get him into all sorts of trouble, and a liking for a pretty woman, which often colours his judgement. He usually makes the right decisions in the end, but it sometimes takes a while to get there. This is, however, part of his charm; it is certainly easy to see why Dr Finlay has remained such a popular character over the years. Cronin has ensured that Dr Finlay is a character with whom most people can identify and this level of realism and the humour with which it is presented is what makes the book so readable.

There are a couple of other recurring characters who deserve a mention, primarily because of their strong characters. One is Dr Finlay's boss, Dr Cameron, who takes advantage of his young colleague's good nature to skive off work as often as he can. He enjoys his good reputation in the town, however, and Dr Finlay does his best to ensure that the reputation remains a good one. The other is Janet, Cameron's housekeeper, a dour lady whose bark is worse than her bite. She is deeply fond of Finlay, however, and often helps him in his plans. Both characters are highly entertaining and bring a great deal of comedy to the proceedings.

The stories are all very short, rarely more than 10 pages each. Without fail, they involve a local character, often someone who is obnoxious for one reason or another, but needs Dr Finlay's care and attention. The story then revolves around Dr Finlay's treatment of them and how he either manages to get the better of them, or how he persuades them to take the straight and narrow approach. Alternatively, the main character will be someone who is suffering unnecessarily, and Dr Finlay will help them to overcome their affliction. There is little mention of religion in the stories, but there is a strong good versus evil feel throughout.

The writing is snappy and very colloquial for much of the time. The transliteration of the local Scottish accent is charmingly done and easy enough for British people to understand, although other English speakers may struggle a little. However, the charm of the stories make it worth persevering with any language difficulties. The fact that the stories are set in the first half of the twentieth century isn't really very obvious, although of course there is little in the way of technology.

I have just one criticism of the omnibus, primarily because it's one that an editor should have picked up or, at least, should have been explained. Dr Finlay of Tannochbrae is the first book in the omnibus, although it was published nearly forty years after Adventures of a Black Bag. On the whole, it doesn't matter, because the stories are all based in more or less the same period. However, there is a mention of appendicitis twice in the book - one in the first book, where Cameron is successfully treated for it, and the other in the second book, where suddenly appendicitis is a recently discovered illness and very few people have the ability to operate. It's possible it was the author's fault, but it did grate a little - up to that point, I had presumed the second book followed on from the first.

On the whole, there are some charming stories in this book that make it very readable - ideal for a light, entertaining read. There is nothing earth-shattering about them, they simply describe the life of a local doctor, but the way that Cronin writes immediately draws the reader in. Readers who enjoy books about a Britain that no longer exists will almost certainly enjoy this. Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: If you enjoy this book, you will also like the Isabel Dalhousie novels by Alexander McCall Smith and An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor.

Buy Dr Finlay's Casebook by A J Cronin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dr Finlay's Casebook by A J Cronin at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Dr Finlay's Casebook by A J Cronin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dr Finlay's Casebook by A J Cronin at Amazon.com.


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