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Is this book first-rate or feeble? Read my review and get the inside dope

Web of Intrigues

Betty Hogg
Amherst Publishing
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From the blurb of this exciting novel:

Alice Wilson gives birth to Cathy the same day Barbara Fairburn brings John into the world. To Barbara's horror, he has webbed toes. Her husband hadn't had them, so which of her lovers is the father — Bert or Dan?

The hereditary linkage regarding the webbed toes is to cause distress in the lives and relationships of many — and have tragic consequences. Yet a ray of light shines in an unexpected way.

John and Cathy, and the other children, grow away from childhood and feel their way through adolescence. Cathy's world falls apart when Harry lets slip that her dad is having a relationship with John's mother, and that folk think she and John might be half brother and sister. She pushes him away when he tries to kiss her at a party, and this is just the beginning of the many intrigues that surround them...

Web of Intrigues is set in the small village of Torwell where the inhabitants distract themselves from the tedium of rural life with adultery, bitchy gossip, horse-riding and giving birth to children. One significant example of the last category, Alice's delivery of Cathy, is touchingly depicted. Tom, who loves Alice but is not her husband, is assisting at the birth because he is "used to cows calving":

He crossed to the bed. Alice lay with splayed legs, her face taut, her hair damp and straggly, her eyes shut. Gently, he clasped her hands. They were clammy with sweat. ‘Alice, it’s me - Tom, You've got to try a bit harder. Come on, you can do it,’ he whispered. As if from a distance, Alice heard his voice. Like the sound of a stone hitting the bottom of a well and echoing its way back up again. It triggered a response. She pushed. A loud ‘oh’ filled the room. Then it was there, the baby, all slimy and gooey.

As they grow up, Barbara wants her son John to keep away from Cathy, partly because she suspects the two are half-siblings and, perhaps more importantly, Cathy is further down the social scale. However, fate is working against her:

Ever since they could toddle, a hole in Barbara's hedge had brought them together.

Oo-er, missus. Double-entendres aside, one would think someone like Barbara would have been capable of getting a fence erected.

Inevitably then, as the two reach adulthood, they are brought together and John, finding that Cathy is no longer slimy and  gooey, announces to his mother that he intends to marry her, news that Barbara receives in an unusual manner:

Like Rembrandt, seeing people within the light and dark, John saw his mother preen the feathers of her mind.

She preens the feathers of her mind because Barbara reckons that John and Cathy will be thwarted by his previous girlfriend (and fiancee) Caroline, a forceful individual who will not take being dumped lightly. Indeed, when John tries to tell Caroline their relationship is off, she laughs in his face and tells him she is pregnant. John responds gormlessly to this news:

"I thought you said you used some form of contraception."

Some form? A pessary made of crocodile dung like the ancient Egyptians? John, mate, this is not a matter where one should be incurious. But he vows to do his duty and marry her, as men did in whatever period this novel is set in.

In the meantime, he continues to see Cathy, who is in fact not related to him, as proved by his webbed toes having been inherited from Dan, not Bert.

What they didn't know was that the hereditary webbed toes characteristic had not gone to sleep. Not its consequences.

But tonight, they bathed in the nectar of their love.

The webbed toes have their revenge when they lead to the death by drowning of Todd, Cathy's seven-year-old son fathered through an act of rape by yet another character, Donald. (Through a complicated subplot Donald comes to regret his evil ways and ends up becoming a prison chaplain and marrying Caroline. )

Todd makes a post-mortem appearance on the final page of the book, in a passage that I take is meant to turn the death of a child into a happy ending:

A light touch on Cathy’s brow, opened her eyes. She blinked, wondering if she might be seeing things. Surely she must be, but no, there sitting on the bed — was Todd.


Cathy sat up.

'Todd, is that you?’

‘I’ve seen granny Ivy, mum. She came to me in the river. She says to say hello. Tell Samuel, thank you, and Susan and the others. I think I’d have married Susan if this hadn’t happened. I love you mum — and dad. Tell him mum.

‘Susan knew I was smiling, mum. It was an inside smile, but she saw it. I think I’m an angel, but I don’t know. I think I see granny Ivy again. Maybe she’s an angel as well. Tell grandpa Ralph, he’ll want to know. I must go now. Oh — and mum. I don't have webbed toes any more, and I’m not afraid of water.’

A feather-light kiss fanned Cathy’s cheek. She smiled, and turned towards John.

Cathy has clearly gone off her head, and who can blame her?

Betty Hogg was born at Greenwood, a farm in Berwickshire, Scotland. Thereafter, she moved with her parents and siblings to Windshiel, another farm in Berwickshire. From there, Betty shifted to Queenscairn, a farm nearer to Kelso, and Ednam East Mille The next move was to Woodside up in the Cheviot Hills, and finally to Denholm, a village in the Scottish Borders. 

Her last school was Morebattle Secondary School, now a primary. Her hobbies are reading, and writing an odd poem. 
And, although she used to ride frequently, she says she would probably fall off nowadays if a horse swished its tail. Her favourite pet was her goat. 

So much seems to be unsaid in this brief biography. If Betty ever flew a light aircraft over the Cairngorms, packing a Glock while high on cocaine, she presumably prefers not to mention it.

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