For those who haven’t heard of him Dr Christopher Syn, otherwise known as the Scarecrow, is a vicar… and a former pirate… and a master smuggler. He was created by Russell Thorndike and appeared in 7 novels, 3 films, 2 comics and a TV series as well as in one of the finest Radio Programmes ever produced where this series of hugely enjoyable novels were read by the consistently excellent Rufus Sewell.
At the heart of the series’ appeal is the concept of a vicar who by night dons the terrifying scarecrow costume and outwits the revenue men. This leads to brilliant storylines time after time. Thorndike is almost unsurpassed, in my opinion, in terms of a unique and excellent writer’s voice that manages to not intrude but rather add to the storyline and the whole sense of the piece. He has a great eye for where the writer needs to speak and uses the technique sparingly enough to enhance the plot.
All the characters are brilliantly drawn. Thorndike expertly creates an ensemble cast of personalities who at first appear to be irrelevant but are then unexpectedly part of the central storyline. It’s a world of arrogant aristocrats, tough soldiers, highwaymen, dastardly pirates and the shrewd master of the whole marsh The Scarecrow.
The first book sees Syn as a student, a skilled fencer and duellist who falls passionately in love with a young Spaniard, Imogen. They marry and live happily in the quiet coastal town of Dimchurch. This is all shattered when Syn’s dashing friend Nicholas Tappitt appears in town. He seduces Imogen and they elope together. Syn, heartbroken, sets out an international quest for revenge on the conniving pair. In the process he adopts the alias Captain Clegg and becomes the most feared pirate on the Spanish Main. He also meets a ship’s carpenter Mr Mipps who becomes his companion and faithful assistant. Syn and Mipps return to Dimchurch and adopt the personas of village vicar and sexton respectively. They are well liked and respected by all. After some of his “flock” are captured by revenue men he sets out to rescue them and so becomes their leader, dressed in rags and a luminous mask, known as The Scarecrow.
There follows the best swashbuckling tale ever written, all done in an incredibly stylish interesting way, brilliant stuff.
Finally I must mention Sewell’s unsurpassed talent as a reader, simply the finest man for the job out there. He appears to understand what Thorndike intended when writing perfectly and reads the book accordingly make it seem even more exciting, even more entertaining and even more poignant.
Yo ho! For the dead man’s throttle…