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Tartan Noir

Tartan Noir is a form of crime fiction particular to Scotland and Scottish writers. It has its roots in Scottish literature but borrows elements from elsewhere, including from the work of American crime writers of the second half of the twentieth century, especially of the hard-boiled genre, and of European authors. (adapted from Wikipedia entry on Tartan Noir)

The United States crime writer James Ellroy coined the name when he described Ian Rankin as “the king of tartan noir” for a book cover. Ian Rankin actually gave himself the name when he asked Ellroy to sign a book for him and said “I’m a big fan and I write tartan noir”. Tartan noir draws on the traditions of Scottish literature, being strongly influenced by James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. These works dwell on the duality of the soul; the nature of good and evil; issues of redemption, salvation and damnation amongst others. The Scottish concept of the “Caledonian antisyzygy”, the duality of a single entity, is a key driving force in Scottish literature, and it appears especially prominently in the tartan noir genre.

Modern crime writers have also been influenced by 1930s and 1940s United States masters of the hard-boiled genre, particularly Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Allan Guthrie’s work shows their influence, as does some of Ian Rankin. More recent American authors who have influenced Scottish writing include James Ellroy, whose focus on police and societal corruption has proven especially resonant with Rankin.

Scottish crime writing has also been influenced by European traditions. For instance, Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret goes after the criminals, but refuses to judge them, seeing crime as a human situation to be understood. William McIlvanney’s novel Laidlaw (1977), with its lead character of Inspector Jack Laidlaw, seemed to have been influenced by Maigret. The social criticism in Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck detective series appears in many works of tartan noir, such as the dark novels of Denise Mina.

McIlvanney’s Laidlaw novel has been called the first novel of the tartan noir genre, given its combination of humanism and police procedural. While Laidlaw is critically important, and a novel that inspired many authors, the TV series Taggart established crime in a Scottish setting in the popular imagination. Glenn Chandler, creator of Taggart and writer of many of its early stories, may have been inspired by Laidlaw. Both share a Glasgow setting and involve the investigations by Glasgow police into murders.

The world-view of Tartan Noir tends toward the cynical and world-weary, typically “hard-boiled”. Many of the protagonists in Tartan Noir stories are anti-heroes, with readers not automatically being expected to sympathize with them – an illustrative example appears in Ian Rankin’s Knots and Crosses when Inspector Rebus blatantly steals bread rolls and milk from a shop, without apology or remorse. The main characters often go through personal crises in the course of the stories, with these crises often forming a key part of the story. The main character frequently has personal reasons for dealing with the crime, whether from personal history or a sense of right and wrong. Val McDermid’s presents her character Lindsay Gordon as being motivated by the murder of a friend and homophobic jibes about the death of her former lover as impetus to catch the murderer.

All books in this list which are owned by Lincoln City Libraries are hotlinked to their entries in our library catalog, so that you may check on their current availability. Some titles not owned by the libraries are included in this list due to their noteworthy nature, or their position as part of a series. If you see a title on this list that is not hotlinked to our collection, please consider ordering it through our Interlibrary Loan department.

Historical influences on this genre:

James Hogg (Scotland)

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)

Robert Louise Stevenson (Scotland)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1824)

Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sherlock Holmes author originally came from Scotland, but set his tales in London. Still, his explorations of the psychology of crime, and his examination of the nature of duality, not to mention occasional appearances of black humor, are essentials of what would later be called Tartan Noir.

Josephine Tey

Only one of her eight novels is set in Scotland, and it hews to the older, romantic vision of Scotland — kilts and highlanders. But her novels do explore the intricacies of human nature, and conflicted identity, that are later hallmarks of Tartan Noir.


Online resources for more information:

Here are links to a couple of excellent recent articles about the fundamental elements and best-known authors of what has become known as Tartan Noir: “The Past, Present and Future of Tartan Noir” at Mulholland Books, April 2011, “Val McDermid on the Remarkable Rise of Tartan Noir” on CrimeReads.com (2018), and “Scotland’s Finest: Exploring the Thrilling World of Tartan Noir” on Murder-Mayhem.com (updated December 2019).

Bloody Scotland — Convention/Organization

The annual Scottish International Crime Writing Festival, established in 2012, where the McIlvanney Prize for the best Scottish crime book of the year and the Scottish Crime Debut Novel of the Year award are presented.

Big Beat From Badsville – blog

This is an online blog, with news about Scottish authors who write gritty mysteries, the “Tartan Noir” of this booklist’s theme. As of early 2020, it appears that this blog has not been updated since 2014. However, it still has a number of useful resources, including an extensive list of Scottish mystery authors, so it’s still worth checking out.


Contemporary or Recent Writers of “Tartan Noir”:

Lin Anderson (Scotland)

The Rhona MacLeod series
— Driftnet (2003)
— Torch (2004)
— Deadly Code (2005)
— Dark Flight (2007)
— Easy Kill (2008)
— Final cut (2009)
— The Reborn (2010)
— Picture Her Dead (2011)
— Paths of the Dead (2014)
— The Special Dead (2015)
— None But the Dead (2016)
— Follow the Dead (2017)
— Sins of the Dead (2018)
— Time For the Dead (2019)

Tony Black (Scotland)

The Gus Dury series
— Paying For It (2008)
— Gutted (2009)
— Loss (2010)
— Long Time Dead (2010)
— Long Way Down (2012)
— Last Orders (2013)
The DI Rob Brennan series
— Truth Lies Bleeding (2012)
— Murder Mile (2013)
The Doug Michie series
— The Storm Without (2012)
— The Inglorious Dead (2014)
The DI Bob Valentine series
— Artefacts of the Dead (2014)
— A Taste of Ashes (2015)
— Summoning the Dead (2016)
— Her Cold Eyes (2018)

Christopher Brookmyre (Scotland)

Jack Parlabane
Quite Ugly One Morning (1996)
Country of the Blind (1997)
— Boiling a Frog (2000)
— Be My Enemy (2003)
— Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks (2007)
Dead Girl Walking (2015)
Black Widow (2016) (winner of the 2016 McIlvanney Prize)
— Want You Gone (2017)
Angelique De Xavier
— A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away (2001)
The Sacred Art of Stealing (2002)
— A Snowball in Hell (2008) Jasmine Sharp
Where the Bodies Are Buried (2011)
When the Devil Drives (2012)
— Flesh Wounds (2013)

(also various stand-alone novels)

Graeme Macrae Burnet (Scotland)

His Bloody Project (2015)

Glenn Chandler (Scotland)

Steve Madden
— Savage Tide (2003)
— Dead Sight (2004)
Stand-Alone Novels
The Sanctuary (1981)
The Tribe (1981)
Killer (1983)

Ann Cleeves (England)

Shetland
Raven Black (2006)
White Nights (2008)
Red Bones (2007)
Blue Lightning (2010)
Dead Water (2013)
Thin Air (2014)
Cold Earth (2016)
— Too Good to be True (2016) (short novella)
Wild Fire (2018)
— Shetland (2015) (non-fiction book about the series)
Shetland (television series 2013-present, starring Douglas Henshall)

Charles Cumming (Scotland)

Charles Cumming is primarily known for his international espionage novels, but he is a Scottish author

Alec Milius
A Spy by Nature (date)
The Spanish Game (date)
Thomas Kell
A Foreign Country (2012) (winner of the 2012 McIlvanney Prize)
A Colder War (2014)
A Divided Spy (2016)
Stand-Alone Novels
— The Hidden Man (2003)
— Typhoon (2008)
The Trinity Six (2011)
The Man Between (2018) (a.k.a. The Moroccan Girl)

Alex Gray (Scotland)

William Lorimer
— Never Somewhere Else (2002)
— A Small Weeping (2004)
— Shadows of Sounds (2005)
The Riverman (2007)
Pitch Black (2008)
Glasgow Kiss (2009)
Five Ways to Kill a Man (2010)
Sleep Like the Dead (2011)
— A Pound of Flesh (2012)
The Swedish Girl (2013)
— The Bird That Did Not Sing (2014) a.k.a. The Silent Games
— The Bank Job (2015) (novella)
— Keep the Midnight Out (2015)
— The Darkest Goodbye (2016)
— Still Dark (2017)
— Only the Dead Can Tell (2018)
— The Stalker (2019)
— When Shadows Fall (2020)

Barry Graham (Scotland)

Stand-Alone Novels
Of Darkness and Light (1989)
The Champion’s New Clothes (1991)
The Wrong Thing (2011)
Dark Heat (2012) Graphic Novel with artist Vince Larue
When it All Comes Down to Dust (2012)
One For My Baby (2019)

Allan Guthrie (Scotland)

Pearce
Kiss Her Goodbye (2005)
Hardman (2007)
Stand-Alone Novels
Two Way Split (2004)
Savage Night (2008)
Slammer (2009)
Killing Mum (2009)
Bad Men (2013)

Quintin Jardine (Scotland)

Bob Skinner
— Skinner’s Rules (1993)
— Skinner’s Festival (1994)
— Skinner’s Trail (1994)
— Skinner’s Round (1995)
— Skinner’s Ordeal (1996)
— Skinner’s Mission (1997)
— Skinner’s Ghosts (1998)
— Murmuring the Judges (1998)
— Gallery Whispers (1999)
— Thursday Legends (2000)
— Autographs in the Rain (2001)
— Head Shot (2002)
— Fallen Gods (2003)
— Stay of Execution (2004)
— Lethal Intent (2005)
— Dead and Buried (2006)
— Death’s Door (2007)
— Aftershock (2008)
— Fatal Last Words (2009)
— A Rush of Blood (2010)
— Grievous Angel (2011)
— Funeral Note (2012)
— Pray for the Dying (2013)
— Hour of Darkness (2014)
— A Hint of Death (2014) (e-novella)
— Last Resort (2015)
— Private Investigations (2016)
— Game Over (2017)
— Skinner’s Elves (2017) (e-novella)
— State Secrets (2017)
— A Brush With Death (2018)
— Cold Case (2018)
— Bad Fire (2019)
— Roots of Evil (2020)

Doug Johnstone (Scotland)

The Skelfs
A Dark Matter (2019)
Stand-Alone Novels
Tombstoning (2006)
The Ossians (2008)
Smokeheads (2011)
Hit & Run (2012)
Gone Again (2013)
The Dead Beat (2014)
The Jump (2015)
Crash Land (2016)
Fault Lines (2018)
Breakers (2019) (co-winner of the 2019 McIlvanney Prize)

Margaret Kirk (Scotland)

DI Lukas Mahler
— Shadow Man (2017)
— What Lies Buried (2018)
Stand-Alone Novels
— In the Blood (2020)

Douglas Lindsay (Scotland)

Barney Thomson, Serial Killer
— The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson (1999)
— The Cutting Edge of Barney Thomson (2000)
— A Prayer for Barney Thomson (2001)
— The Face of Death (2002)
— The King Was In His Counting House (2004)
— The Last Fish Supper (2006)
— The Haunting of Barney Thomson (2007)
— The Final Cut (2009)
— The Curse of Barney Thomson (2014)
— Barney Thomson, Zombie Killer (2017)
— Aye, Barney (2018)
Detective Thomas Hutton
— The Unburied Dead (2013)
— A Plague of Crows (2013)
— The Blood That Stains My Hands (2014)
— See That My Grave is Kept Clean (2019)
DCI Jericho
— We Are the Hanged Man (2013)
— We Are Death (2017)
DI Ben Westphall
— Song of the Dead (2016)
— Boy in the Well (2017)
— The Art of Dying (2019)
DI Pereira & DS Bain
— Cold Cuts (2017)
— The Judas Flower (2017)

Stuart MacBride (Scotland)

Logan McRae
Cold Granite (2005)
Dying Light (2006)
— Broken Skin (2007)
Flesh House (2008)
Blind Eye (2009)
— Dark Blood (2010)
— Shatter the Bones (2011)
— Close to the Bone (2013)
— The Missing and the Dead (2015)
In the Cold Dark Ground (2016)
— The Blood Road (2018)
— All That’s Dead (2019)
Ash Henderson
— Birthdays For the Dead (2012)
A Song for the Dying (2014)
Logan and Steel
— Partners in Crime (2012)
— The 45% Hangover (2014)
— 22 Dead Little Bodies (2015)
— 22 Dead Little Bodies and Other Stories (2015)

Malcolm MacKay (Scotland)

Glasgow Trilogy
The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter (2013)
How a Gunman Says Goodbye (2013) (winner of the 2013 McIlvanney Prize)
The Sudden Arrival of Violence (2014)
Stand-Alone Novels
The Night the Rich Men Burned (2014)
Every Night I Dream of Hell (2015)
For Those Who Know the Ending (2016)
In the Cage Where Your Saviours Hide (2018)
A Line of Forgotten Blood (2019)

Peter May (Scotland)

Enzo MacLeod Investigation
— Extraordinary People (2006)
— The Critic (2007)
Blacklight Blue (2008)
Freeze Frame (2010)
Blowback (2011)
Cast Iron (2012)
The Lewis Trilogy
The Blackhouse (2011)
The Lewis Man (2011)
The Chessmen (2012)
Stand-Alone Novels
Hidden Faces (1981) (a.k.a. The Man With No Face)
Virtually Dead (2010)
Entry Island (2013) (winner of the 2014 McIlvanney Prize)
Runaway (2015)
Coffin Road (2016)
I’ll Keep You Safe (2018)
A Silent Death (2020)

Alexander McCall-Smith (Scotland)

Isabel Dalhousie
The Sunday Philosophy Club (2004)
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (2005)
The Right Attitude to Rain (2006)
The Careful Use of Compliments (2007)
The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday (2008)
The Lost Art of Gratitude (2009)
The Charming Quirks of Others (2010)
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (2011)
The Perils of Morning Coffee (2011) (novella)
The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds (2012)
The Novel Habits of Happiness (2015)
At the Reunion Buffet (2016) (novella)
Sweet, Thoughtful Valentine (2016) (novella)
A Distant View of Everything (2017)
The Quiet Side of Passion (2018)
The Geometry of Holding Hands (2020)

Val McDermid (Scotland)

Tony Hill & Carol Jordan
The Mermaids Singing (1995)
The Wire in the Blood (1997)
The Last Temptation (2001)
The Torment of Others (2004)
Beneath the Bleeding (2007)
Fever of the Bone (2009)
The Retribution (2011)
Cross and Burn (2013)
Splinter the Silence (2015)
Insidous Intent (2017)
How the Dead Speak (2019)
Wire in the Blood (television series 2002-2008, starring Robson Green)

Liam McIlvanney (Scotland)

Conway Trilogy
— All the Colours of the Town (2009)
— Where the Dead Men Go (2012)
Duncan McCormack
The Quakers (2018) (winner of the 2018 McIlvanney Prize)

William McIlvanney (Scotland)

Jack Laidlaw
Laidlaw (1977) (considered by many to be the “first” of the modern era of Tartan Noir novels)
The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983)
Strange Loyalties (1991)

Denise Mina (Scotland)

Garnethill
Garnethill (1998)
Exile (2000)
— Resolution (2001)
Paddy Meehan
Field of Blood (2005)
The Dead Hour (2006)
Slip of the Knife (2007)
Alex Morrow
Still Midnight (2009)
The End of the Wasp Season (2011)
Gods and Beasts (2012)
The Red Road (2013)
Blood, Salt, Water (2015)
Stand-Alone Novels
Sanctum (2002)
The Long Drop (2017) (winner of the 2017 McIlvanney Prize)
Conviction (2019) (co-winner of the 2019 McIlvanney Prize)
The Less Dead (2020)

S.K. Paisley (Scotland)

Stand-Alone Novels
— Take a Breath (2014)

Ambrose Parry

Way of All Flesh
Way of All Flesh (2018)
The Art of Dying (2019) (co-winner of the 2019 McIlvanney Prize)

Hugh C. Rae (Scotland)

(numerous stand-alone novels — none in the libraries’ collection)

Caro Ramsay (Scotland)

Anderson & Costello
— Absolution (2007)
Singing to the Dead (2008)
— Dark Water (2010)
— The Blood of Crows (2012)
The Night Hunter (2014)
The Tears of Angels (2015)
Rat Run (2016)
Standing Still (2017)
The Suffering of Strangers (2017)
The Sideman (2018)
— The Red, Red Snow (2020)

Ian Rankin (Scotland)

John Rebus
Knots and Crosses (1987)
— Hide and Seek (1990)
Tooth and Nail (1992) a.k.a. Wolfman
A Good Hanging (1992) (Short Story Collection)
Strip Jack (1992)
The Black Book (1993)
Mortal Causes (1994)
Let it Bleed (1995)
Black and Blue (1997)
The Hanging Garden (1998)
Dead Souls (1999)
Death is Not the End (1998) (Novella)
Set in Darkness (2000)
The Falls (2001)
Resurrection Men (2001)
A Question of Blood (2003)
Fleshmarket Close (2004) a.k.a. Fleshmarket Alley
The Naming of the Dead (2006)
Exit Music (2007)
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012)
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013)
The Beat Goes On (2014) (The Complete Short Stories)
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015)
Rather Be the Devil (2016)
In a House of Lies (2018)
Rebus: Long Shadows (date) (A Stage Play, co-written by Rona Munro
Inspector Rebus (television series 2000-2007, starring John Hannah)
Malcolm Fox
The Complaints (2009)
The Impossible Dead (2011)

Craig Russell

Lennox
— Lennox (2009)
— The Long Glasgow Kiss (2010)
— The Deep Dark Sleep (2011)
— Dead Men and Broken Hearts (2012)
— The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid (2016)

Manda Scott (Scotland/England)

Kellen Stewart
— Hen’s Teeth (1998)
— Night Mares (1998)
— Stronger Than Death (1999)
Stand-Alone Novels
No Good Deed (2001)
A Treachery of Spies (2018) (co-winner of the 2019 McIlvanney Prize)

Aline Templeton

DI Marjory Fleming
— Cold in the Earth (2005)
The Darkness and the Deep (2006)
Lying Dead (2007)
Lamb to the Slaughter (2008)
Dead in the Water (2009)
Cradle to Grave (2010)
— Evil for Evil (2012)
— Bad Blood (2013)
— The Third Sin (2015)
DI Kelso Strang
— Human Face (2018)
— Carrion Comfort (2018)
— Devil’ Garden (2020)

Peter Turnbull (Scotland/England)

Glasgow P. Division
— Deep and Crisp and Even (1981)
— Dead Knock (1982)
— Fair Friday (1983)
— Big Money (1984)
— Two Way Cut (1988)
— Condition Purple (1989)
— And Did Murder Him (1991)
— Long Day Monday (1992)
— The Killing Floor (1994)
— The Man With No Face (1998)

Louise Welsh (Scotland/England)

Plague Times Trilogy
— A Lovely Way to Burn (2014)
— Death is a Welcome Guest (2015)
— No Dominion (2017)
Stand-Alone Novels
The Cutting Room (2002)
Tamburlaine Must Die (2004)
The Bullet Trick (2006)
Naming the Bones (2010)
The Girl on the Stairs (2012)

Compiled February 2020 sdc | Last updated February 2020