Tartan Noir is a form of crime fiction particular to Scotland and Scottish writers that are of the hard-boiled crime genre. They are at once grim, dark and twisted, but also explore the Scottish sense of ‘place’ especially in urban settings. Scottish crime fiction has undergone a boom in recent years, especially with the global success of the Detective Rebus novels by Ian Rankin. And yes, I love them. I you like your crime to be dark, grim and Scottish here are some of Rankin’s contemporary Tartan Noir writers to try.
I have just finished this one and can really recommend it. Set in Glasgow in the 1970s, this first instalment of the Harry McCoy series explores the different levels of society with sex, drugs and violence bringing the connections to fore. Moral complexities abound, past connections complicate the present and the crime investigated just keeps getting darker.
This is recommended by the author Alan Parks and appears in his top five tartan noir novels so you know it must be good. This is actually the second novel of the Garnethill trilogy, (Garnethill being the first) and deals with marginalized people, whose daily lives are a struggle destroyed by poverty. Mina is a master at insightful characters and brings us intriguing crimes as well. Definitely on my To Be Read pile now.
Credited as the father of Tartan Noir McIvanney’s Jack Laidlaw is a hard drinking philosopher detective. This is the first in the trilogy and explores aloneness and alienation through the life of Laidlaw. McIlvanney creates a dark and sinister Glasgow that is violent and full of fear. Definitely not for the faint hearted.
Now if you like a bit of humour with your noir then why not try Brookmyre. He is reviewed as darkly hilarious and gives us tightly plotted crime novels with his most beloved character Jack Parlabane often solving the crime as he stumbles to the nearest bar. What is more Scottish than a crime that includes a wee dram of whiskey?
This featured in quite a few lists of the best tartan noir novels. If you like twisty plots by authors like Sarah Waters then you will love Louise Welsh. This, her first novel, is set in modern Glasgow and follows an auctioneer who discovers a set of photographs that show the images of what appears to be a horrible crime.
Like father like son! Liam McIlvanney is William’s offspring and the apple does not fall far from the tree in this instance. Winner of the 2018 Scottish Crime award, The Quaker is set in 1969 Glasgow. The worst winter, a smart killer on the loose, a city in the grips of paranoia and fear and DI Duncan McCormack must follow a trail of dark secrets that will impact his life forever. With 4 stars on Goodreads you know this must be good.
Shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger prize, Natural Causes is the first in the series featuring Edinburgh-based Detective Inspector Anthony McLean. This incorporates the unnatural with seemingly unconnected murders. The coincidences continue to grow but the connections between the victims remains elusively out of touch. What is evil? And how does it manifest itself? Edinburgh is definitely otherworldly in this noir novel.
This is the latest in the series featuring forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod. With a father a detective in the CID her novels have a gritty realism and it is great to see women featured in the Tartan noir genre and we move away from the major cities to the Isle of Skye.