So, having dealt with the facts (or my version of them at least) what of Scottish crime fiction? Scotland is a place with a gothic sensibility and a dark sense of humour, and both those aspects show up in its crime fiction.
Edinburgh was the home of Scottish crime fiction – with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner with its murder, rape, adultery, religious mania, bigotry, the supernatural and psychopathy. Today, the city of Edinburgh is positively littered with fictional police, PIs and psychopaths.
The three authors I particularly want to mention as being favourites of mine are:
Allan Guthrie whose debut novel, Two-Way Split, is a wonderfully dark and funny novel and one of my favourite books this year so far. I can’t recommend it highly enough – if you like your crime fiction noir and warped, then this is the book for you. And if you don’t believe me, take notice of Mr Ian Rankin himself in the Edinburgh Evening News:
Paul Johnston’s Quintilian Dalrymple is a PI in a failed utopian Edinburgh of the near future. It’s the 2020s and most of the UK has been torn apart by the drug wars which raged in the early 21st century. Lawlessness runs amok – except in Edinburgh which is under the supposedly benevolent dictatorship of the Council of Guardians. The tourist is king and the festival is a year round affair. The ordinary citizens of Edinburgh are all in regular employment in the tourist trade and they have regular weekly sex sessions provided by the Council. On the downside cars, telephones, computers and popular music have all been banned. Quint, the protagonist, is a maverick ex-cop who was demoted after refusing to follow orders. He now finds missing people and annoys the Council. The series has been described as ‘Plato’s Republic with a body count’ and is very clever and funny.
My third Edinburgh choice is Christopher Brookmyre a writer of satirical, scatological, hilarious, in-your-face, crime fiction. His books are set all over Scotland but the Jack Parlabane series is primarily set in Edinburgh. Basically, Brookmyre sees a tone and then lowers it – all good dirty stuff. So you know just what to expect, the first one in the series – Quite Ugly One Morning – starts off with a shite on the mantelpiece and goes downhill from there. Quite Ugly One Morning is being televised on British TV next week, starring James Nesbitt. My favourite of Brookmyre's books is not a Parlabane. One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night is the old old story of a school reunion on an oil rig – crap 80s music, embarrassing reminiscences about young love, old grudges for long-forgotten slights, men with automatic weapons – just the usual stuff. Christopher Brookmyre’s books have a lot of guts – and most of them are spilling all over the page.
The rest follows on the next bit (why am I totally incapable of being concise? Answers on a large postcard, please)
And a summary of Edinburgh’s other crime fiction offerings – the city is, of course, Rebus territory, but I’m sure I don’t need to talk about Ian Rankin.However, Edinburgh does have other policemen – first of all Quintin Jardine’s DCC Bob Skinner, who has now appeared in 14 books. Jardine also has another series featuring Oz Blackstone - an ex-movie actor and private enquiry agent. Another policeman walking Edinburgh’s mean streets is Frederic Lindsay’s grumpy, middle-aged DI Jim Meldrum.
Carol Anne Davis’ Edinburgh set Noise Abatement is a tale of revenge that should make noisy neighbours everywhere sit up and take notice. And, not strictly crime fiction, but I can’t exclude Irvine Welsh, who put Edinburgh’s drug scene well and truly on the map.
On the cosier front, Alexander McCall Smith has left the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in the capable hands of Mma Ramotswe and started a new series featuring genteel Isabel Dalhousie – a middle-aged lady from the posh part of Edinburgh. Then there’s Joyce Holms’ Fizz and Buchanan books which feature a rather staid lawyer and his inquisitive young assistant; and Alanna Knight whose most well known creation is Victorian detective Inspector Faro.
Over in the west, Glasgow was pretty under-represented until recently with the exception of William MacIlvanney’s dark, complex and witty Jack Laidlaw, and Peter Turnbull’s P division – a sort of Glaswegian 87th Precinct. However, all that has changed in recent years.
My three Glasgow choices are Douglas Lindsay, Louise Welsh and Denise Mina.
Douglas Lindsay’s Barney Thomson is a mild mannered Glasgow barber who inadvertently becomes a serial killer. Surreal, violent and funny…in a scary sort of way.
Louise Welsh’s The Cutting Room is a very gothic tale of a gay auctioneer called Rilke who is hired to clear out the home of an elderly man after his death, and who finds a collection of violent pornographic photos.
Denise Mina’s Glasgow is seen through the eyes of psychologically scarred Maureen O’Donnell in Mina’s Garnethill trilogy. These are very dark books, which are humanised by the wonderful character of Maureen who is deeply flawed, completely compelling, and very likeable.
Also in my city, there’s Manda Scott whose books feature vet Kellen Stewart. There's also a thriller called No Good Deed set in Glasgow and the north of Scotland. New writer Louise Anderson’s first book Perception of Death is just out and features a female Glasgow lawyer. It looks to be set more in the penthouses and trendy bars, than the seedier side of Glasgow. Another first novel – Alex Gray’s Never Somewhere Else was a pretty good, read and set in Glasgow’s art world. I haven’t yet read the follow up. Another female author who’s fairly new on the crime scene is Lin Anderson who has a new series featuring a female forensic scientist. The first of these is set in Glasgow, the second, in Edinburgh. On the historical front, Pat McIntosh’s The Harper’s Quine is set in medieval Glasgow. There’s not much left of medieval Glasgow today so I’m interested to read this one.
As for the men, well, Ian Pattison, the creator of Rab C Nesbitt – Glasgow drunk and husband of Mary-doll – has written a black comedy called Sweet and Tender Hooligan about a gangster who returns to the city for the first time in years for his mother’s funeral. He’s a tad worried because he’s been sort of exiled from Glasgow since he published his memoirs. Campbell Armstrong writes about DS Lou Perlman whose patch is a part of Glasgow's East End called Egypt. Another author whose books I have on Mt TBR but have not yet read.
And, of course, there’s Iain Banks. How can you resist a book which starts:
“It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.” (The Crow Road).
The rest of Scotland is represented by M C Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth, Bill Kirkton - on whom I can find nothing - but who apparently writes books set in Aberdeen, Marten Claridge, at least one of whose books – Slow Burn – takes place on a Scottish island. Sadly, these books featuring DI Frank McMorran appear to be out of print, as they sound interesting. And, of course, no comments on Scottish crime fiction would be complete without mention of Val McDermid even though most of her books are not set in Scotland. Her most recent standalone The Distant Echo is an exception, and is set in St Andrews.
So there you have it. Hardboiled, cosy, funny, touching, mean streets and suburban secrets. It’s all there between the covers of Scottish crime fiction. I’m sure I’ve missed lots of Scottish crime authors and if you know of any, please let me know.
And, finally, a question. If you were to recommend a crime fiction novel set in your home town, what would it be and why?