Iconic Scottish buildings are the starting point for a dozen leading crime writers in this brilliant collection, writes Louise Fairbairn The Bloody Scotland crime writing festival turns six this weekend, and to celebrate it has produced this anthology in association with Historic Environment Scotland (HES) as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.
A dozen top Scots crime writers celebrate 12 of the country’s greatest built sites by setting a story in each place. In his introduction to these 12 tales tall and true, HES publisher James Crawford describes the collection as “a tribute to two of our nation’s greatest assets”, and the selected authors showcase both the breadth of Scotland’s built wonders and the myriad styles and sensibilities that make up its flourishing crime writing scene.
Val McDermid and Denise Mina have been named among the five finalists for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2017.
The other three contenders for the overall prize are Craig Russell, Jay Stringer and Craig Robertson.
A panel of judges including comedian and crime fan Susan Calman, writer Craig Sisterson and programmer of Granite Noir, Lee Randall, whittled down the final five from a 12-strong longlist featuring “some of the best names in Scottish crime fiction”.
Russell has won the award before, Robertson is one of the founders of Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival, while the judges described Stringer as a “relative unknown”.
McDermid has been shortlisted for Out of Bounds (Little, Brown), which follows protagonist Karen Pirie, who the judges say is “one of the most engaging and charismatic of all the fictional Scottish Detectives”. Mina’s “elegantly written” The Long Drop (Random House), “confirms Denise Mina’s stature among the great Scottish crime writers” according to the judges, while Russell’s The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid (Quercus), has been praised for being an “assured riff on a classic noir caper which reveals Glasgow in all its gritty and compelling glory”.
Robertson’s Murderabilia (Simon & Schuster) features “an intriguing premise in a contemporary setting which tiptoes along the darker edges of crime fiction with an unusual detective at its heart”, while Stringer’s How to Kill Friends and Implicate People (Thomas & Mercer) is an “unexpected and explosive novel” which proves the writer has “reached the major league of Scottish crime fiction”, the judges said.
Judge Sisterson said: “Reading the books for the prize has been a pleasure and a privilege, and has convinced me that Tartan Noir is a sparkling gem on the global crime-writing stage.”
The winner is to be announced at the opening reception of Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival at Stirling Castle on Friday 8th September. The award recognises excellence in Scottish crime writing, includes a prize of £1,000 and nationwide promotion in Waterstones.
Tony Hill and Carol Jordan are back, on the hunt for the ‘Wedding Killer’
Val McDermid has written close on 30 award-winning thrillers and suspense novels, in four series, since the late 1980s, all of them featuring a lead female protagonist. She herself worked as a journalist and a crime reporter, and the atmosphere is grittily realistic.
Insidious Intent is the tenth volume in the only McDermid series to feature a partnership – one both emotional, albeit reticent and repressed at times, and professional. Once again, as in all these novels, the title is a phrase from TS Eliot, here “The Love Song of J Albert Prufrock”:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
McDermid, once an English scholar, has a captivating rhythm to her writing – perhaps because of her underlying apprehension of poetry, and affinity with her chosen poet and his ability to plumb human nature. To set the scene, she quotes from De Quincey’s On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts. The interplay of understanding and collaboration between the high-ranking policewoman Carol Jordan, and the clinical psychologist, a profiler of criminals, Tony Hill, is crucial.
Both are middle-aged adults with complex characters and complex histories. They are people of integrity, but all too aware that things are never black and white. Both are heavily compromised by past actions, undertaken perhaps for the best of motives but marred by misjudgements, as well, of course, by the law of unintended consequences.
They are utterly human, weighed down with difficult pasts and unresolved grief and conflict. Tony is more or less living in Carol’s renovated barn, once home to her murdered brother and sister. Their relationship is platonic but stressed, as both may want more; she is also an alcoholic who has gone cold turkey and is desperate, as the story unfolds, for a drink. The reader can practically feel her physical and mental pain as she longs for her fix of choice. Carol is also being stalked by an investigative journalist who seems partly motivated by malice. Lurking behind the present sequence of events is a spectrum of past failures and successes in dealing with the most horrible violent crimes, some psychopathic in nature.