Agatha Chirsty: Murder On The Orinsay Bus

5 01 2011

Agatha Chirsty (pronounced Kuur-stee) was a well-known Stornoway writer of crime fiction in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Sadly she never gained the respect and higher profile of her mainland cousin Agatha Christie, due to all her books and plays revolving around the murder of sheep. However, if you look carefully in the Crime Section of Stornoway Library you may still find several of her books, including;

The Seven Dells Mystery

The Murder at the FP Manse

Death In The MacLeod Motel

Death on the Creed

Ten Little Niseachs

The Marag Crack’d From Side to Side

Murder (of the Stornoway Trustees) On The Links

Taken at the Feannag

However, Agatha Chirsty’s best loved story was ‘Murder on the Orinsay Bus’. This intriguing novel became a best seller and was adapted for film and television several times. The most famous version was the BBC Alba production staring the famous Stornoway Thespian Albert Finsbay as Hector Part- Rudhach (although another well respected Stornoway Thespian Peter Used-to-croft also played Part-Rudhach in several other adaptations).

Murder On The Orinsay Bus is set in the 1930’s and involves a bizarre murder on a snow-bound bus in a remote part of South Lochs. The plot presented Agatha Chirsty’s most famous character, Hector Part-Rudhach, with a baffling mystery to solve. Hector Part-Rudhach is a renowned water bailiff who is going on a well earned rest to Orinsay to see his grannie. He is lucky to get a seat on the exclusive ‘Orinsay Express’ bus, famed throughout Lewis as the most luxurious bus in operation (it has seats!).

The passengers are an odd mix of travelers, all bound for South Lochs for unknown reasons. There is a shady looking character called Ratshed, who claims to be an Estate Owner from Uig.·

Eachain McQueen, Ratshed’s Grazings Secretary ·

Plasterfieldman, Ratchett’s sheepshearer, ·

Corporal Achmore-not A Corporal in the Territorial Army  ·

Mrs Cupboard travelling salesperson from Cathy Dhalls·

‘Count-This’ Annie MacDonald a bank teller from the British Linen Bank on Cromwell St·

Princess Natalia ‘Drag the Moor off’ a beauty pageant winner of Miss Lochs 1932·

Mary MacLeod who works in Debenham’s in Inverness – a shop worker going to visit her auntie·

‘Fresh Ling’ Hilda Smith, Natallie ‘Drag the moor off’s make up artist·

Tony ‘Four car’ Welly, a car salesman from Mitchell’s Garage·

Miss Greta Ochrach, a Swainbost missionary ·

Peter Mitchell, the bus conductor·

Silage Hardcove, a bodyguard hired by Ratshed

During the journey, just as they pass Kershader, the bus becomes stuck in a snow drift. The passengers have to endure a night on the bus, but luckily one of the passengers is a travelling salesman from Cathy Dhall’s Off License and so had a case of ‘Stewarts Cream of the Barley’ to keep everyone warm. After a sing-song, the passengers fall asleep. During the night Hector is awoken several times by strange noises.

In the morning, Ratshed is found dead on his seat. He appears to have been stabbed 12 times by a pair of rusty sheep shears. As there are no snowy footprints leaving the scene of the crime, it becomes apparent that the murderer is still on board the Orinsay Bus. The bus driver asks Hector to investigate the case as the local policeman from Balallan can’t reach the bus due to the snow.

Hector searches the bus for any clues. He also conducts interviews with each passenger to ascertain their whereabouts the previous night. Before too long, Hector begins to smell a rat (and a decomposing Ratshed). Many of the alibis given by the 12 passengers seem to conflict each other, and Hector becomes suspicious that several of the travelers are not necessarily who they say they are. A few false leads are flung about by the 12 to try to confuse Hector (including a sighting of a mysterious figure in a red boiler suit – and the boiler suit  turns up later in Hector’s suitcase).

At last Hector calls all of the passengers to the back seat of the bus. When all are assembled, Hector sets out two theories as to what happened to Ratshed.

The first theory is that Ratshed is really a grazings Clark from Bernera who kidnapped a prize ram from Breanish, hoping to enter it at the Barvas Show. The Breanish Grazings Committee paid the ransom, but Ratshed fleeked off to the mainland with the money and the ram was never seen again. The twelve passengers are actually the members of the Breanish Grazings Committee. They have spent the last few years tracking down Ratshed and came up with the cunning plan of all of the Grazings Committee murdering him on the Orinsay Bus.

After getting Ratshed drunk on the Cream of the Barley, they would each stab him once with the sheep shears. This all went according to plan, but the conspirators hadn’t counted on famous crime-fighter and  water bailiff Hector being on board the bus.

However, Hector himself had sheep and so was sympathetic to the Grazings Committees loss of a prize ram. His second theory therefore, was that the unknown murderer fleeked off out of the rear window after stabbing Ratshed and disappeared into Pairc, most likely falling in a bog. And as no-one liked Ratshed anyway, Hector Part Rudhach was happy enough to tell the Balallan policeman that this was what had happened. Mystery solved.

(with thanks to Angie, Peter and Deadollac for having read some of these books)