Ten of The Best Scottish Mysteries
Scotland is a remarkable country in many ways, renowned not only for its sweeping glens and towering mountains, its historic cities and quaint villages, but also for the astonishing number of excellent mystery writers who set their novels here. From the very top of the country in the remote Shetland Isles to the Scottish Borders, we have several writers whose books I can happily recommend.
Ann Cleeves, though not a Scot, spends a great deal of time in Scotland, especially in Shetland where one of her bestselling series is set. The latest, Cold Earth, sees Inspector Jimmy Perez searching through a croft house following a horrific landslide only to discover the body of a woman who was dead before the incident happened. His subsequent investigation brings him far more intrigue than he could ever have suspected. A superb book from a writer I admire greatly.
Orkney is the setting for None But The Dead, Lin Anderson’s latest in the Rhona MacLeod series. The forensic scientist is called upon to examine the bodies of children who are found by an artist living in an old schoolhouse where secret silk flowers have been kept hidden. I commend this book to those who have not yet discovered Rhona and her fellow characters.
A little further southwest, we arrive on Harris where Peter May has set The Coffin Road. When a man staggers from the sea having completely lost his memory, dark forces conspire to suggest that he may actually be a killer. Can he prove his innocence and, even more, will he ever remember who he is and what he had done? A thrilling tale from this super storyteller.
Across the mainland to the northeast is the famous Balmoral Castle, one of the royal residences, which is the setting for historical mystery writer Alanna Knight’s The Balmoral Incident. It is 1905 and Rose McQuinn, daughter of the famous Inspector Jeremy Faro, is spending time on the Balmoral estate with her stepdaughter and her trusted deerhound, Thane. Two so-called accidents occur soon after their arrival and Rose, who runs a one-woman detective agency back in Edinburgh, is suspicious that these are more than accidental deaths. The story is packed full of hints of danger as well as drawing a wonderful picture of a very special place that has remained largely unchanged under the protection of several different monarchs.
Our capital city boasts many great writers but the story I commend is the latest in Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, Rather Be The Devil. As ever, Edinburgh is shown in all its varied shades from smart and proud to dark and sinister, just what a reader expects of the city that produced Jekyll and Hyde. In this story, we find the retired Rebus still poking around in a cold case that has left him intrigued and that impinges on present-day struggles in the city’s gangland. Definitely one for those who love to see a character still pushing against authority and going his own way.
Still in Edinburgh, may I flag up Val McDermid’s latest in her Karen Pirie series, Out of Bounds. Here the reader sees not only parts of Edinburgh but also the Kingdom of Fife, McDermid’s homeland. McDermid is one of those writers whose mysteries never fail to please, not only for the quality of her prose but for the twists and turns that keep the reader awake into the wee small hours rapidly turning pages.
Across the country and to my own home city of Glasgow where there is plenty of raw material from which to create mystery stories! Not only has Denise Mina found such material but she weaves her tale based on the true story of Peter Manuel, a killer whose name struck fear into members of the public during the 1950s. “The Long Drop tells that story and more, written in Mina’s inimitable style and capturing a time gone by.
Still in the city of Glasgow, one of the best books by Craig Robertson is Random, an astonishing tale that shows an unhinged individual targeting his victims for no lucid reason. Impossible to detect? Perhaps, but this story twists and turns in unexpected ways and will leave the reader breathless.
The winner of the 2016 William McIlvanney award was Chris Brookmyre’s Black Widow and was one of my favorite books of last year. The story tells of a woman whose husband has disappeared and everything points to her being his killer. But is this true? Jack Parlabane is asked to find out more and in his investigation, we see more twists and turns than ever. From the city courtroom to the Scottish countryside and beyond, we are taken on a roller coaster ride by a master storyteller.
The Scottish Borders always seem so calm and untroubled but human nature being what it is, there is plenty to keep DI Marjory Fleming busy. Bad Blood by Aline Templeton tells the tale of Keira, a victim of hyperkinesia asking questions about why she had been found alone in an isolated cottage as a child with a head injury and her mother gone. It is a case that Marjory seems reluctant to take up and with good reason. A story from a writer whose beautiful prose illumines the landscape of this part of the country.