Tartan noir: An A-to-Z of Scottish crime writing
- Brian Donaldson
- 2 November 2012
A dictionary of Scottish literature’s darkest genre
Briain Donaldson works through the dictionary of Scottish literature’s darkest genre
A is for Aberdeen
While Edinburgh and Glasgow get most of the crime fiction attention, the Granite City has been re-awakened from its seemingly law-abiding slumbers by the likes of writers Lance Black, Bill Kirton and MG Kincaid while Stuart MacBride is a regular on the bestseller lists.
B is for Bob Skinner
Having read an awful book on holiday in 1989, Quintin Jardine was challenged by his wife to write a better one himself. From that discussion, the 22-book strong Detective Skinner series was born.
C is for Cops
Yes of course, there are plenty police officers in Tartan Noir, but how many authors have gone from being in the force to penning crime dramas? Not as many as you’d imagine, though Karen Campbell and Craig Russell are two of the more successful Scottish ones.
D is for Death of a …
Robert Carlyle played Hamish Macbeth on the telly, the gentle crime series created by MC Beaton (aka Marion Chesney). All 28 of the books are entitled Death of a … (dentist, maid, chimney sweep etc) with the sole exception of 1999’s A Highland Christmas.
E is for Ellroy
When describing the success of Ian Rankin, the master of the modern US hard-boiled crime story came up with the term tartan noir. Barko was heard to woof in agreement.
F is for Femmes Fatales
Alanna Knight, Alex Gray and Lin Anderson are the trio in question who have gathered together for events under the moniker. Anderson and Gray are also the masterminds behind the recent Bloody Scotland, the first festival dedicated to crime writing in Scotland.
G is for Garnethill
‘The grand dame of Scottish crime fiction’ is one description of the still young Denise Mina and it all began in the late 90s with her Garnethill trilogy starring the resourceful if largely luckless Maureen O’Donnell.
H is for Historical
I is for Isabel Dalhousie
The lead character in Alexander McCall Smith’s Sunday Philosophy Club mystery series has been dubbed a mix of Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse and Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw.
J is for Joppa
Identical crime-writing twins, Morna and Helen Mulgray were born in this Edinburgh suburb in 1939. Their books feature the adventures of customs officer DJ Smith and her indestructible sniffer cat, Gorgonzola.
K is for Kirkcaldy and Kate Brannigan
L is for Laidlaw
While James Ellroy may have coined the term, William McIlvanney is considered to have written the first actual book of the tartan noir genre in 1977, with the first of his series of books featuring Glasgow DI Laidlaw.
M is for Marjory Fleming
N is for No Mean City
While the spectre of Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde looms large over Edinburgh’s crime fiction fraternity (Ian Rankin has spoken of its influence on him), the 1935 novel No Mean City by Alexander McArthur and H Kingsley Long reverberates among the Glasgow community with its tale of Gorbals’ razor gangs.
O is for Orkney
P is for ‘Plato’s Republic with a body count’
This is how one critic described Paul Johnston’s Quint Dalrymple crime series set in a futuristic Edinburgh of the 2020s.
Q is for Quite Ugly One Morning
Christopher Brookmyre introduced us to Glasgow journo Jack Parlabane who stumbles upon the investigation into the murder of a gambling medic in this witty novel.
R is for Rebus and Rankin
The most bankable pairing that tartan noir has spawned, the author retired his gnarled creation in 2007 only to revive him in 2012 with Standing in Another Man’s Grave.
S is for Straw Dogs
Sam Peckinpah’s notorious psycho-thriller is based on The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, a crime drama from Gordon M Williams, the Paisley-born author who collaborated with Terry Venables on TV cockney cop show, Hazell.
T is for Taggart
Pretty much the best representation of tartan noir to make it to our small screens, from the bluesy theme tune, ‘No Mean City’, to the dark and brutal realities of Glasgow crime.
U is for Undertakers (Unrepresented)
Given the stench of death that by necessity permeates tartan noir, the humble undertaker is rarely seen. We have to venture into literary fiction for one of the best examples, Alan Spence’s Way to Go.
V is for Vet
W is for Whisky
John Rebus is certainly known to have swallowed a dram or two in his time, while the Mulgray Twins’ Above Suspicion is set among the distilleries of Islay, the same destination for Doug Johnstone’s ex-uni mates in Smokeheads.
X is for Exile and Exit Music
OK, we had to cheat slightly here, Exile being the second book of Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy while Exit Music was supposed to be Rebus’ swansong. I suppose there must have been lots of X-rays taken in Scottish crime books, many of which could be dubbed X-certificate?
Y is for Young Journalist of the Year
Z is for Zenith
Glenn Chandler wrote comedy-drama movie Deadly Advice, starring Jane Horrocks and Edward Woodward, for Zenith Productions. The Edinburgh writer is most famous for creating Taggart and also penned the DI Madden books, Dead Sight and Savage Tide.