14th November 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Tasty morsel of a book for collectors

When Rats Ate The Fat by Peter Blanker. Published by Shetland Amenity Trust.

Put together a drunken and dishonest sea captain, a one eyed ex-pirate, an old sea dog, a steward, a wine merchant, a laird, his beautiful daughter and a very young company clerk who epitomises truth, honesty and a sense of duty and you have the characters for an exciting tale.

Sprinkle in crime, treasure, violence, adventure, sex, romance, greed, jealousy and a damaged and rat-infested ship that is held together with little more than bacon fat and rind and you have all the ingredients for a tasty morsel of a book. The rats found the fat tasty and that is when it began to fall apart, quite literally. When Rats Ate The Fat is an historical novel by Peter Blanker. It is the story of the Dutch ship De Lastdrager which was wrecked on Crussnaness, North Yell, in March 1653 with considerable loss of life. It was carrying several chests of treasure and this is a rollicking high tension thriller that, once started, is difficult to put down.

The ship was a Dutch East Indiaman bound from the Netherlands to Batavia (the old name for Jakarta), in what was the Dutch Indies, now Indonesia. Peter tells the story of the voyage, the wreck, the turbulent aftermath in Yell and the return to Holland. It is based on the diary of the young clerk Jan Camphuys.

The fiction is very skilfully woven in to the historical facts and the reader is hard pushed to know which is which. However in the Yell part of the story there is clear evidence of author’s licence. On starting the book it took some little time to become comfortable with the characters but, that done, the story flowed beautifully and there are intriguing stories within the story.

Peter Blanker is retired from his career as a professional entertainer and lives in West Yell. He has perfect English and therefore he was able translate the story into English from the Dutch that it was written in originally. The question is bound to be asked: has it lost anything in the translation?

Probably very little. Peter has had the help of Shetland Amenity Trust and Brian Gregson has edited it, clearly having done a good job. Another contributor to this fine work is Ron Sandford. Ron lives in Yell and he is a professional and talented artist.

He has added sepia illustrations that are in keeping with the time when drawing and illustrations were king and cameras and photographs were never even dreamed of. It was also a time when thousands of Dutch fishermen came to Shetland for the herring fishing.

This book will be a must for every collector of Shetland books and it will be read and enjoyed by thousands. The book itself has print that is on the small side for old eyes but it is on quality paper and securely bound between handsome paperback covers.

Lawrence Tulloch