A gazetteer of British crime: Scotland

Scotland FinishedA sense of place is one of those vital ingredients which can be crucial in a crime fiction novel. Maigret’s rainy Paris suburbs, Marlowe’s neon-lit LA, Harry Hole’s snowy Oslo streets – the locations are inseparable from the characters. Here in Britain we have our own very precise and individual areas, each of which has inspired crime fiction authors. Over the next few weeks and months we aim to take you on a leisurely tour, and introduce you to – or reacquaint you with – some interesting regions and localities, along with the fine writers who have used them marvellously in their books.

Part 1: Scotland
We start with a part of Britain which is, over much of its land mass, very sparsely populated, but which has produced a dazzling array of crime writers going back decades. It is no exaggeration to say that, along with oil, whisky and tourism, fine crime novels have been one of Scotland’s great growth industries. Many writers have been attracted to the grimmer aspects of Glasgow life, but crime knows no boundaries, and even the idyllic beauty of the Scottish Isles can be home to evil and corruption.

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stuartmacbride540We start in the Granite City. Stuart MacBride has done for Aberdeen what Ian Rankin has done for Edinburgh. With a brilliant mixture of black humour, even blacker crimes, and a rare sense of pathos amid the mayhem, DS Logan McRae has become one of crime fiction’s hottest properties. One of the many joys of the series is the abrasive relationship between McRae and his vitriolic – but vulnerable – boss, DCI Roberta Steel, and their exchanges veer between the wildly comedic and the poignant. We reviewed (and loved) Close to the Bone in 2013, and Shatter the Bones in 2012. In 2014, MacBride spoke to us about his work, and you can read the interview here. The most recent is 22 Dead Little Bodies.

 deniseminamainWe are truly spoilt for choice when trying to select a story of villainy set in Glasgow. We could have chosen the bleak and existential world of Malcolm Mackay’s crime bosses, or the more avuncular DCI Lorimer, so vividly brought to life by Alex Gray, and several more. Instead, we have chosen to highlight the dark and gritty world of Glasgow as seen by Denise Mina. Our admiration for the author is far from unique. Not only did she win the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award in 2012, but she had the audacity to repeat the achievement in 2013 with Gods and Beasts. Mina’s central character, DI Alex Morrow, is perfectly modern and true-to-life. She is a mother (of twins) but is a dedicated and perceptive police officer who manages to juggle career and family – more or less – successfully. Click the link to read our interview with Denise Mina.

ianrankinFor capital crimes in Auld Reekie we could have once again chosen from a whole ID parade of fine writers, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest. Ian Rankin has almost single-handedly turned the maverick and disillusion cop trope into its own literary genre, and the single moniker ‘Rebus’ is up there with Holmes, Marlowe, Poirot and Maigret in the pantheon of great crime fiction characters. Authors might demur politely when the success of their books is judged by how good TV adaptations were, but Ken Stott’s interpretation of Rebus between 2000 and 2007 drew little criticism and won many admirers. It seems hardly credible that John Rebus first made an appearance in Knots and Crosses in 1987, but the vivid accounts of his long-running feud with gangster Morris Gerald Cafferty have become the stuff of legend. Rankin spoke to us in 2013 in this interview, and you can find out more about what makes Rebus tick in our reviews of Saints Of The Shadow Bible (2013) and Standing In Another Man’s Grave (2012). There are Rebus short stories in The Beat Goes On and the latest, Even Dogs in the Wild, comes out in November 2015.

petermay02The Road to the Isles is a famous Scottish song, and it takes us to the northernmost spot in our whole Gazetteer. Peter May might live in France, but his Lewis Trilogy has attracted huge acclaim. The tales of crime set in the Hebrides did not initially appeal to UK publishers, and they first saw the light of day in French. This massive injustice is just about equal to Decca Records turning down The Beatles, but these days May is rightly recognised across the United Kingdom and overseas. His most recent book, Runaway, is set far away from the mysterious islands, and is a semi-autobiographical account of May’s young adult years. Returning to the geography, however, The Lewis Trilogy concluded with The Chessmen (2013) and you can read our interview with Peter May by clicking the link.

The next stop on our journey around the crime fiction locations of the British Isles is somewhere beneath the endless brooding skies and limitless horizons of East Anglia.

Who is your favourite Scottish crime author, please let us know in the comments below – feel free to add in details you like about them and point us towards their best novels.

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5 Comments

  1. Shona McTavish Reply

    There are so many brilliant Scottish crime writers that I couldn’t possibly pick one! In the past I would have definitely and immediately said Ian Rankin and ‘Rebus’, who I feel I now know personally, but in addition to Ian Rankin I have now fallen in Love with Peter May starting with the atmospheric ‘Lewis’ trilogy and then of course there is Stuart MacBride who took me back to my student days and the wonderful city of Aberdeen. Let me not forget Denise Mina, Val McDermid and of course Robert Galbraith, aka J. K. Rowling and her ‘Cormoran Strike’ series. All are truly gifted writers.

  2. DeathBecomesHer Reply

    I raise a dram to your Tartan endeavours and would like to offer a couple of additions. A brace of great Scottish-based psychological thrillers spring to mind – and both are set on fictional Isles. I think Simon Sylvester’s The Visitors needs to be on your map… (though where Bancree may be is anyone’s guess) along with The Ice Twins by S.K.Tremayne (whose fictional island is definitely near Skye).

  3. crimefictionlover Reply

    Thanks for dropping by Shona. DeathBecomesHer is making me think of islands and while Ann Cleeves is not a Scot her Shetland books are hot (see, that rhymed and I’m not even a poet). Here’s Dead Water http://www.crimefictionlover.co.uk/2013/01/dead-water/

    Another island that may well not feature in our series is the Isle of Man and it’s there that we find Dark Tides by Chris Ewan, one of my favourites from last year – http://www.crimefictionlover.co.uk/2014/10/dark-tides/

    Anyone else got some suggestions for Scotland, or random islands around the place?

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