Remember the great film noir experiences–The Maltese Falcon; Farewell, My Lovely–that grew out of the hardboiled crime fiction by such authors as Raymond Chandler? Scotland offers a fairly new version in its appropriately named tartan noir. Ian Rankin is credited with starting the trend, but he acknowledges William McIlvanney as being the true godfather of the genre.
Valerie McDermid is one of a growing number of authors who offer good reads for the traveler. In general, these titles will be set in urban landscapes as opposed to the country cosy mysteries of M.C. Beaton whose mysteries are set in a village in northwest Scotland. The protagonist of McDermid’s amateur detective novels is Lindsay Gordon, ever so appropriate to the country, drawing on two well known clans–and thus two tartan patterns.
Report for Murder is typical Lindsay Gordon, a feminist lesbian journalist who scrapes by on part-time work due to the decreasing number of print journalists. She gratefully accepts a weekend job at a girls school to manage the public relations of a fund raiser to save the playing fields from a greedy developer. A couple of the “old girls” who have become celebrities–a cellist and a TV personality–join in to help the cause, but the former has a legion of enemies, so it is not surprising that she is found garroted by her own cello string in a locked practice room. Lindsay must get the scoop but also solve the murder. In the process, she also falls for the TV personality, who herself is a suspect.
This is Gordon’s first outing, but although attacked by the murderer, she lives to solve other crimes in the continuing series.
Other noir writers include Gordon Ferris and his Pilgrim Soul as well as Stuart MacBride, the author of A Song for the Dying.
Initially, Glasgow can seem dark and foreboding, and, in fact, Lindsay Gordon is touchy about this kind of attitude among those who don’t know “her” Glasgow; however, the trick is to take advantage of the many wonderful Charles Rennie MacIntosh/Margaret McDonald architectural sites: the Art School (get a tour from a current student); their home on the University campus; the Willow Tea Room (take a cup in the afternoon or tune in for lunch), and even the school on Shakespeare Street. Not far from town is “House for an Art Lover,” a plan not actually built until the 1990s, and in Helensbrough, is Hill House. Those who don’t know MacIntosh, will think “this is the Scottish Frank Lloyd Wright.” Truly marvelous.
When in Edinburgh, consider checking out the Oxford Bar at #8 Young Street (more alley than street) near Charlotte Square as this is the hangout of Ian Rankin’s Rebus.