The best books that show the diversity of Scottish crime writing

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a keen follower of Scottish crime fiction, a genre that has really come to the fore in recent years, spawning dedicated book festivals and many TV and film adaptations. The great thing about many of these books is that they don’t always follow the usual narrative of cops and baddies but have varied and diverse storylines, often concentrating on characters in unusual or extreme situations and not involving the police–something I attempted in my own book. My picks on this list hopefully illustrate just how diverse Scottish crime writing can be and encourage more readers to seek it out.


I wrote...

Dark Side of the Moon

By Les Wood,

Book cover of Dark Side of the Moon

What is my book about?

A disparate group of inept low-level Glasgow gangsters attempts to pull off a heist to steal the world’s most famous gemstone–the rare purple diamond, the Dark Side of the Moon–when it is exhibited, along with great publicity and accompanying high levels of security, in a luxury department store in the city.

Things begin to fall apart quickly when they realize they have no clue about what they are doing, leading to infighting, betrayals, mayhem, and disaster.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Laidlaw

Les Wood Why did I love this book?

I’m not usually a fan of the police procedural type of crime novel, but I would always make an exception for this book. Arguably the book that kick-started the ‘Tartan Noir’ genre of modern Scottish crime fiction, this story follows the gritty, witty Chandler-esque detective, Laidlaw, as he tries to track down the murderer of a Glasgow teenager.

This sounds like the plot of so many crime novels, but what elevates this book for me is the wonderful prose that surrounds the hard Glasgow setting, along with Laidlaw’s sense of social injustice and inequality and his empathy with those very inhabitants of the criminal underworld he is forced to navigate.

By William McIlvanney,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Laidlaw as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First in “a crime trilogy so searing it will burn forever into your memory. McIlvanney is the original Scottish criminal mastermind” (Christopher Brookmyre, international bestselling author).
 
The Laidlaw novels, a groundbreaking trilogy that changed the face of Scottish fiction, are credited with being the founding books of the Tartan Noir movement that includes authors like Val McDermid, Denise Mina, and Ian Rankin. Says McDermid of William McIlvanney: “Patricia Highsmith had taken us inside the head of killers; Ruth Rendell tentatively explored sexuality; with No Mean City, Alexander McArthur had exposed Glasgow to the world; Raymond Chandler had dressed the darkness…


Book cover of His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae

Les Wood Why did I love this book?

I love books with unusual structures, and this one certainly fits the bill. The story concerns the violent murder of three crofters (farmers) in a remote Scottish Highland community in 1869.

When reading the book and the way it is presented, you are never sure if you are reading true witness testimonies, contemporaneous court reports and medical statements, or the confession of the actual murderer himself. Unreliable narrators can sometimes be frustrating, but in this case, how sure are we that any of what we are reading is actually true?

The book delivers a sort of courtroom drama in which the reader is left to piece together to draw their own conclusion.

By Graeme Burnet,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked His Bloody Project as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

MAN BOOKER PRIZE FINALIST

LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FINALIST

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2016 BY NEWSWEEK, NPR, THE GUARDIAN, THE TELEGRAPH, AND THE SUNDAY TIMES

A NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS' CHOICE

"THOUGHT PROVOKING FICTION"-THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

A brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. There is no question that Macrae committed this terrible act. What would lead such a shy and intelligent boy down this bloody path? And will he hang for his crime?

Presented as a collection of documents discovered by the…


Book cover of The Dead Don't Boogie

Les Wood Why did I love this book?

Crime novels can often take themselves too seriously, but a fair proportion of Scottish crime writing tends to buck this trend.

Douglas Skelton has several novels that, while dealing with unsavory, violent characters and deadly situations, make us laugh with the sheer joy of witty dialogue and the blackest of black humor.

This book is one of these (even the title makes me smile!). The fast pace, quick-fire jokes, and knowing references to film noir of the 40s and 50s make this a compulsive, entertaining page-turner.

By Douglas Skelton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Dead Don't Boogie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A missing teenage girl should be an easy job for Dominic Queste - after all, finding lost souls is what he does best. But wouldn't it be better sometimes if lost souls just stayed that way? Jenny Deavers is trouble. She's being hunted, and for the people tracking her, murder is nothing. As the bodies pile up, so does the pressure on Queste, both to protect Jenny and to find out who wants her dead. The trail leads him to a brutal world of gangsters, merciless hitmen, dark family secrets and an insatiable lust for power in the highest echelons…


Book cover of The Cutting Room

Les Wood Why did I love this book?

This book, by Louise Welsh, has an air of darkness and gloom that permeates the whole book from the very first page–something I find hugely compelling.

Although set in modern-day Glasgow, this story could be a gothic horror from the nineteenth century. Rilke, a thin, dark figure whose work as an auctioneer tasked with clearing the contents of the house of someone who has recently died, leads him to the discovery of a set of sadomasochistic torture photographs of a young woman that might, in fact, be actual snuff photos. His determination to discover what happened to the woman leads him into the city's dark, seedy underbelly that few of its inhabitants would be aware of.

I found this book to be incredibly unsettling, though the writing is beautifully constructed in a lyrical literary style, which drew me deeper and deeper into a world I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to know.

By Louise Welsh,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Cutting Room as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Unputdownable' Sunday Times
'I was hooked from page one' Guardian

When Rilke, a dissolute auctioneer, comes upon a hidden collection of violent and highly disturbing photographs, he feels compelled to discover more about the deceased owner who coveted them. Soon he finds himself sucked into an underworld of crime, depravity and secret desire, fighting for his life.


Book cover of Complicity

Les Wood Why did I love this book?

I love seeing rich, powerful, and corrupt figures get their just desserts, and this book delivers this in spades–very inventive spades.

Here, a gonzo journalist finds that important people he has been writing about are turning up dead, murdered in fascinatingly brutal and clever ways. Murders that make us, the readers, just as complicit as the perpetrator since, while we may want to look away, the vicarious satisfaction we get from them surely condemns us as much as the killer.

I’m using the word ‘we’ here, but maybe I just mean myself–I doubt it! This makes this book sound like a grim read, but it isn’t–Banks was a superb, funny, socially aware writer who could deliver memorable, entertaining characters, some of whom you’d like to hang out with, others not so much…

By Iain M. Banks,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Complicity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of a modern classic: 'ingenious, daring and brilliant' - Guardian

COMPLICITY
n. 1. the fact of being an accomplice, esp. in a criminal act

A few spliffs, a spot of mild S&M, phone through the copy for tomorrow's front page, catch up with the latest from your mystery source - could be big, could be very big - in fact, just a regular day at the office for free-wheeling, substance-abusing Cameron Colley, a fully paid-up Gonzo hack on an Edinburgh newspaper.

The source is pretty thin, but Cameron senses a scoop and checks out a series…


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Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

Book cover of Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

Leslie Tall Manning Author Of Maggie's Dream

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Mentor Laugher Research nut Avid reader

Leslie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Winner of the Literary Titan Book Award

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family’s happiness.

But Marilyn’s quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by…

Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

What is this book about?

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family's happiness.

But Marilyn's quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb…


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