Books: Detestabil Enormities

THE STEEL BONNETS

by GEORGE MacDONALD FRASER

395 pages. Knopf. $8.95.

The land itself, in the words of an old chronicler, was "lean, hungry and waste." Instead of houses and barns, sinister cut-stone towers studded bleak slopes, along with no less sinister place names—Foul Play Know, Dour Hill, Blackhaggs, Foulmire Heights. Here on the border between England and Scotland, year after terrible year, the great "riding families"—Armstrongs, Scotts, Maxwells, Grahams, Johnstones, Elliots, Fenwicks and others—spent most of their time committing "innumerabil slauchteris, fyre raisingis, herschipps and detestabil enormities."

In fact, thanks to the enterprise...

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