A SACRED FLAME
Is the story of a penniless boy from a small Scottish town with an overriding ambition to become a great surgeon. But to achieve his aim, he has to contend with local prejudice, has to fight to save his brother from hanging, has to sacrifices his love.
As a boy, Murdo Cameron watches the local doctor save his stepbrother's life and is fired by the ambition to become a surgeon, something that appears beyond a penniless, illegitimate boy from a small class-ridden Scottish town between the wars. His other love, rich, well-born Fiona Carmichael, seems as unattainable as medical school, even if she loves him. It does not help that his family is a mix of Protestant and Catholic.
Murdo has also to contend with his drunken, violent Irish stepfather, Michael Keane, who is jealous of the love his wife, Morag, shows him and seeks to destroy him. Keane is just as hard on his own son, Davie, who is making a name in the boxing ring and loves Janie, an orphan taken in by Morag.
Although Murdo wins a bursary, his stepfather puts him to work as a labourer and steals his savings. Murdo still studies for a scholarship. His local doctor, an eccentric and prickly homunculus, recognises the boy's talent and takes him on his rounds to teach him practical medicine.
Keane discovers the mutual passion of Murdo and Fiona and goes to Andrew Carmichael, a class-conscious local tycoon, with the story that the 'bastard' is out to grab his fortune by marrying his daughter. Carmichael vows to ruin Murdo and his family.
Janie is raped by Keane, discovers she is pregnant but keeps it secret. At her work in the local explosives factory she is involved in an explosion, and the shock produces a miscarriage.
At the New Year, Davie and Janie are celebrating their engagement with the family when Keane arrives and forbids his son to marry, calling Janie a whore for making up to him. Her secret comes out. When Keane starts beating Davie, he throws one punch which fells his father and breaks his neck.
Although an accident, Andrew Carmichael influences the procurator to call it murder, arguing that a boxer's fists are lethal weapons. When Davie is charged with parricide, Carmichael offers Murdo money to hire a good lawyer and pay his way through medical school. But Murdo must agree to sever contact with his daughter and leave Wigtoon.
To save Davie's life, Murdo signs the pact with Carmichael and leaves the town. Davie is acquitted of murder in Glasgow High Court but given three years' imprisonment on the lesser manslaughter charge.
BOOK II finds Murdo in 'exile' at medical school in Glasgow. Fiona turns up. She has broken with her father and run away with money from her grandfather; she urges him to emigrate with her to New Zealand where she has relations, or allow her to work and keep him while he takes his degrees. He refuses to break his pact, fails to keep their rendezvous and she leaves on her own..
He meets Margaret Kennedy, head of the infirmary lab, who allows him to work there and sees him as a potential husband. She suffers from diabetes.
Without warning, Carmichael stops payment of the post-dated cheques he has given Murdo, which jeopardises his final years' study. Davie, who has come out of prison and married Janie, saves him; he defies his wife and turns professional boxer to hand Murdo his contract money to finish his studies.
A year later, Murdo learns that Fiona married a New Zealand doctor at about the time her father stopped the cheques. He marries Margaret Kennedy as soon as he gets his Master of Surgery degree.
Razor-gang thugs whom he met in Barlinnie Jail try to force Davie to 'throw' his coming fight. He refuses and his triumph provokes a bloody gang war in one of Glasgow's slum districts. But in his next match he nearly kills his opponent with one punch and turns scared to enter the ring. He never fights again. At the docks, where Davie works as a security guard, the razor-gang who had threatened him are robbing a warehouse; he challenges them, they overpower him, slash his face and beat his right hand to such a pulp that even Murdo has a job to save it from amputation.
BOOK III: War splits the family. When his younger brother, Patrick, is posted to the Middle East, Murdo volunteers for duty there to keep an eye on him. His last patient is Marion Carmichael, Fiona's mother, who needs a stomach operation and insists he do it. He agrees, reluctantly, but demands and receives from Carmichael a fee of six hundred and fifty guineas, more than ten times the normal rate -- the amount of his unredeemed post-dated cheques.
In he Middle East, he learns Margaret is pregnant and knows the birth might be difficult for a diabetic. Called on to carry out a life-saving heart operation on a wounded New Zealand brigadier, he meets Fiona's husband and learns she is in the Canal Zone as a nursing sister.
Although he avoids her, they meet by accident, declare their love and cannot this time stop themselves from making love to each other. She has to go back to New Zealand with casualties and Murdo has to rejoin his mobile surgery unit deployed just behind the lines. He is operating on El Alamein casualties when he learns that Margaret has died giving birth to his daughter, something he sees as retribution for betraying her. He goes back to his sacred flame, surgery.