Scottish crime fiction: writers to watch

There seems to be a rumbling in the north, a growing presence of criminal writing from Scotland. Following in the footsteps of two of the UK’s most successful writers – Ian Rankin and Val McDermid – Scottish crime authors are in vogue at the moment, with more and more books by Scots hitting the shelves. Some say a whole new sub-genre called tartan noir is developing, and we’ve received word that September will see the country’s first international crime writing festival – Bloody Scotland – take place in Stirling. And only today we reviewed The Crime Interviews, a book detailing the work of numerous Scottish writers.

So even though it’s not Burns Night or St Andrew’s Day, we decided to look at just a few of those Scottish names that you’ll have heard of, and possibly a few who’ll be soon be filling your bookshelves.

It would be remiss to start anywhere other than with the biggest Scottish name in the crime fiction field. Ian Rankin is the bestselling author of the Rebus novels, totalling 17 books and spanning two decades. With the new Malcolm Fox series, Rankin has firmly cemented his place as one of the UK’s premier crime writers. His writing sets the standard for any author wanting to link story and place effortlessly, bringing Edinburgh to life better than any other writer.

Val McDermid is perhaps best known for her Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, which became a successful TV series called Wire in the Blood. Known for her psychological thrillers, McDermid is an incredible talent, who seems to somehow get better with every novel. A true great and The Retribution is a wonderful read.

Hot on the heels of both Rankin and McDermid is Stuart MacBride, the author of seven Logan McRae novels which are set in the ‘Granite City’ of Aberdeen. Known for being both gritty and humorous, MacBride has his feet set firmly in the crime fiction scene as one its biggest names. An excellent writer, his latest McRae novel Shatter The Bones shows his deft skill for grim crime fiction.

He may spend a lot of time outside of Scotland these days, yet Paul Johnston is still setting the bar high for intelligent crime fiction writing. His Quint Dalrymple novels, set in a futuristic Scotland, form an excellent series of books.

For darker fare, Ray Banks is your best bet. A fantastic talent for hardboiled and noir crime writing, Banks revels in the dingier side of life in the north. And he’s not the only one, Allan Guthrie is a name well known in this area of the genre also. Definitely ones to check out.

Craig Robertson is a new name to have cropped up in the last year or so, but with Random and Snapshot he is proving he’s someone who will be around for a while. Incredibly original writing. Similarly, Tony Black is a name to remember, with his new Rob Brennan novel Murder Mile already being talked about as possibly being the best new release of the year. With an already well received series of Gus Dury novels behind him, Black is one to watch.

A writer who is a bestseller in Scotland with her Lorimer series of novels, Alex Gray is consistently producing great work. Bringing Glasgow to life, this is a series to get stuck into. And with his debut novel due out this year, Michael Malone is already being touted as the new big name to add to the growing list above. Blood Tears will be released in June and it’s hoped this will be just the first of his DI McBain novels.

There is a realism present so manyof these Scottish books which is sometimes absent from other UK-based stories. Whether that’s an influence of place or time, I’m not sure. So I asked Helen FitzGerald, who is originally from Australia but has lived in Scotland for the last 20 years. She writes astounding psychological crime fiction, with a touch of genre-bending. Her recent release The Donor took the number two slot in my best books of 2011. Here’s what she said…

“My mum said 20 years living in the grey, murder capital of Western Europe, has made me write about darkness, despair, and deviance. She suggested I come home to Australia to write something with hope and joy in it. Taking her advice, I headed downunder in December, sat at an outside table in a cheerful, sunny beach-side cafe, and started writing. The story I started writing is about a dysfunctional Australian couple who accidentally overdose, kill and bury their baby whilst a raging bushfire burns folk to a crisp in the distance. Sorry Mum, it’s not Glasgow. It’s me.”

So, there you have it. An incredible list of Scottish crime writers to sink your teeth into. Undoubtedly I’ll have forgotten to include somebody imporant here. So please let us know who you think should be on the list in the comments section below.

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  1. Marisa Reply

    Where’s the love for Denise Mina? In my opinion, she’s a much stronger writer than Gray or MacBride, and her characters are all very unique and engaging.

    1. Tracey Murray Reply

      I am hooked on Denise Mina – her writing flows so easily and her characters are believable. Michael Malone – nice guy but could not get by the first chapter of Blood and Tears as he couldn’t string the words together to form a paragraph. Sorry.

  2. Gordon Harries Reply

    To be fair, Luca only had so much room to work with an managed to include names that most people who are interested in genre fiction know (like McDermid) and people who have a tendency to inhabit the mid-list (like Banks)

    Mina’s sales are doing just fine, trust me she doesn’t need the exposure and who knows? She may not be to Luca’s taste.

    If she isn’t he’d be wrong though, just not wrong to not include her (or anyone) in his article.

  3. Seumas Gallacher Reply

    All of these above are excellent reads. You may wanna have a look also at Ron Culley’s A Confusion of Mandarins, and yours truly, Seumas Gallacher (debut author)’s The Violin Man’s Legacy. Keep up the great work people…Cheers , Have a great day..

    Seumas Gallacher

  4. crimefictionlover Reply

    Thanks for suggesting Denise Mina, yes she’s a great writer too. Luca has covered a swathe of Scottish writers but there are bound to be more so it’s fantastic to hear about people like Ron Culley, Seumas Gallacher and so forth.

    Everyone has different favourites. And, I really miss Taggart. “There’s been a murder…”

  5. Gertie Gray Reply

    Denise Mina is an excellent writer. Gritty and true to life. Macbride, for me, is too far-fetched and unbelievable. And I’ve got a bad chest from inhaling all the passive smoke from DI Steel!
    Ian Rankin is the master for me though. Miss John Rebus enormously.

  6. Pete Houston Reply

    Can I just take a moment to add my support to that of Seaumas Gallacher. I read that Ron Culley is the rightful heir to fellow Scot Alistair MacLean so I read his first book about gun control in America, The Kaibab Resolution. It was absolutely first class. His book A Confusion Of Kandarins equals it but is a wittier account of big oil. I still love Rebus. What it’s that Scots thriller writers have? Whatever it is, Culley and Rankine have it in spades.

  7. Ian Stimes Reply

    I live in the Isle of Man but love reading Scottish writers so am enjoying this post. I heartedly agree earlier comments about Rankine and Banks and would also add Denise Mina. I’m looking forward to reading this new chap Gallacher but want especially to commend Ron Culley’s A Confusion Of Mandarins. I can see why he’s being compared with McLean. I’d personally compare him more with Le Carre as theres a spy dimension to ‘Mandarins’ although he’s much more readable and less dense in his plots. Still, the king has to be Rankine. He’s super!

  8. Chris Longmuir Reply

    That’s a good selection of Scottish writers, but there are far more than that. Her’s a list of the ones I can remember with me at the top of course –
    Chris Longmuir;
    Lin Anderson;
    Russel D. McLean;
    Alanna Knight (historical crime);
    Gillian Galbraith;
    Bill Kirton;
    there are several more but I can’t recall the names off the top of my head, so does anyone want to add to the list?

  9. Ali Liddy Reply

    Thanks for highlighting Bloody Scotland Festival. The whole festival is actually the brainchild of Alex Gray and Lin Anderson and they, along with a number of other authors and publishers that have made it happen. The full programme will be launched 17 May 2012. But in the meantime a short story competition has be launched if you are feeling creative.

  10. Campbell Brannigan Reply

    I agree the sanctification of Ian Rankine but don’t see Ron Culley in the same league – not a poorer league, just a different one. I loved his two latest novels but they seem to me to be more general thrillers with more than a nod towards the spy genre. I mean, there’s crime involved – but it’s mostly dastardly deeds.

    But what I really wanted to say was a big pat on the back for those who dreamt up the idea of focussing upon Scottish writers. We have such a rich crop of writers in Scotland just now, it’s great to see them being recognised.

  11. darren perks Reply

    Gordon Ferris is pretty good- The Hanging Shed

    Rankin is the daddy

    He’ s not Scottish but in the spirit of Celtic brotherhood

    Ken Bruen cuts the mustard in Galway noir

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