Scotland has been much in the news lately with its ultimately unsuccessful attempt to break away from the United Kingdom. There was suspense right up to the vote counting with polls showing a very close race between Aye and Nae, but in the end the Naes had it. British Prime Minister David Cameron claimed the suspense had given him ulcers and undiplomatically revealed that the Queen “purred” down the phone with relief. At least now she won’t have to travel to a foreign country to visit her beloved Scottish retreat at Balmoral.
It just so happened that while Scotland occupied the headlines I was steeped in Scottish atmosphere in both my reading and viewing. I was watching the TV series Outlander based on the Diana Gabaldon novels, and reading a thriller by Peter May, a Scottish author previously unknown to me, that I picked up by chance in the library. Although I enjoy discovering new books by reading reviews and blogs, I think there is still a certain magic in just browsing the library shelves and happening upon a great reading experience. May’s dark portrait of the Outer Hebrides island of Lewis is a world away from Gabaldon’s romantic fantasy set in the “kilts and heather” Scotland of popular imagination.
I’ve always found mysteries a good way to explore different cultures because the best authors write with a strong sense of place, enriching their plots with local color and customs. For instance, reading Ruth Rendell has kept me up to date with the cultural changes that have taken place in England since I left back in 1970. Here are some mystery series set in Scotland that together reflect the diversity of the country, from remote islands to tough urban neighborhoods.
Edinburgh detective Fin Macleod returns to the Outer Hebrides island of Lewis to help solve a murder. The investigation leads to secrets from his own past growing up in the isolated community. The dramatic centerpiece of the plot is the ancient tradition of sea bird hunting on a remote rock in the Atlantic. This is the first of a projected trilogy. The second, published this year, is The Lewis Man.
This is the latest entry in the Detective Inspector Alex Morrow series set in Glasgow, the gritty urban face of Scottish culture. Mina has written several series all set in her native city, the main stronghold of Scottish nationalist separatism. In this episode Morrow investigates an international arms dealer and a prominent lawyer who may have become entangled in money laundering. To read the series from the beginning start with Still Midnight.
The Hamish MacBeth series are the Scottish version of cozy mysteries, set in the Highlands village of Lochdubh where MacBeth is the local “bobby.” In this latest adventure the village police station is threatened with closure and MacBeth himself becomes a suspect in the murder of a visiting Inspector. To read the series from the beginning start with Death of a Gossip.
Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels are deservedly the best known Scottish mysteries. Set in and around Edinburgh they have earned the description “Tartan Noir.” Against the backdrop of the Scottish independence campaign, Rebus investigates a 30 year old cold case in which his team have been suspected of foul play. To read the series from the beginning start with Knots and Crosses.
So happy reading, cheers, or as the Scots would say "Slainte Mhath!"