Sunday, 6 October 2013

Sunday October 6th, 2013 Discovering Tartan Noir

The description of a gruesome murder taking place in cold, dark stone streets or in an isolated country-side would have many people guessing that they were reading something Nordic but it could mean a mystery with a more familiar brogue.  American author, Elmore Leonard coined the term “Tartan Noir” to describe the dark mysteries that began emerging from Scotland in the late 1980’s.  These novels feature flawed heroes struggling with inner conflicts as well as fighting crime.
The most familiar author of the genre is Ian Rankin. Beginning with “Knots and Crosses”, Rankin introduced the curmudgeonly and emotionally damaged police detective, John Rebus. Rebus is one of those characters you truly grow to love; challenging the system to seek justice, while suffering a toll on his own soul.  After 17 Rebus novels, Rankin chose to retire the character and write other novels, but the popularity of Rebus forced Rankin to reintroduce Rebus to satisfy fan demand. The most recent book in the series, “Standing in Another Man’s Grave”, features Rebus together with Rankin’s other main protagonist Matthew Fox.
While John Rebus patrols the streets of Edinburgh, author Denise Mina has chosen the industrial city of Glasgow in which to set her mysteries featuring journalist Patricia “Paddy” Meehan or police detective Alex Morrow. The story lines in a Mina novel are usually psychologically complex and as a native Glaswegian her intimate knowledge of the city and its peculiarities give the readers a unique insight into the story.  Her last Alex Morrow novel, “Gods and Beasts” begins with a robbery at a busy Glasgow post office that leaves an elderly man dead and sends Alex into the world of graft and political corruption.
Heading north to the “granite city” of Aberdeen, author Stuart MacBride delves into the dark side of crime, with his protagonist Detective Sergeant Logan McRae. MacBride lets his characters indulge in the gallows humour that helps maintain a little sanity in a dark situation.   Having barely survived a murderous attack, McRae carries both emotional and physical scars that can sometimes hamper his work for the Grampian police. “Close to the Bone” is the latest McRae novel and focuses on the occult style murders that may really be the beginning of something even worse.
If mystery in the Highlands calls, then the 1950’s Inverness set novels by A.D. Scott may appeal. Joanne Ross is a working woman and a single mother at a time when both were viewed with disdain, especially in the tiny, interwoven communities that populate the Highlands.  As a journalist Ross becomes involved in seeking the truth for the dead. Beginning with the novel “Small Death in the Great Glen”, Scott lets Ross and the team at the Highland Gazette seek the truth in a sea of lies.
Quintin Jardine returns to Edinburgh with his detective Bob Skinner, who first appeared in print in 1993 with the book, “Skinner’s Rules”.  When we first met Skinner, he was a senior member of the Edinburgh CID, a man jaded by time and his job. With each successive novel, Skinner develops as a character, bringing new dimensions to the tragedies that surround him.  “Pray for the Dying” finds Skinner struggling to find the culprit behind a public assassination that finds the victim and the killers dead at the scene, while at the same time trying to make sense of his marriage falling apart.
Other standouts include Val McDermid who used Fife for her book, “A Darker Domain”. Peter May in the Lewis trilogy. Set in the Outer Hebrides, Detective Fin MacLeod finds himself returning home to a world of dark secrets, traditional loyalties and murder. Finally, Ann Cleeves’ “Shetland Island Quartet”, which are true thrillers. So grab your library card and explore the darker side of Scotland.
Lori Kauzlarick

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