In the shadowy corners of mist-shrouded moors and the gritty streets of bustling cities, Scottish crime fiction is steeped in intrigue and atmospheric suspense. Despite Scotland's relatively small population, breathtaking scenery, and deep-rooted culture, some of the world's best crime thriller novels are set in this culturally rich locale.
To delve into a Scottish crime thriller is to transcend the ordinary, as these intriguing novels capture the essence of Scotland's captivating criminal underbelly.
From the dark alleys of Edinburgh to the remote landscapes of the Highlands, this list delves into the gripping world of Scottish crime novels, where the mystery is as thick as the brooding Scottish fog, and the characters navigate a landscape as treacherous as the plots they unravel.
The Lie She Told
Due to Kate’s dangerous husband Darren, it’s paramount that Kate and her son Joe relocate. With the help of DI Thornes, they find themselves in the Scottish Highlands, where Kate works at a cafe and the two of them live in the apartment above it. Just when things seem to be going well for them, Kate’s secrets start to catch up to her. Kate’s lie starts to catch up with her.
Ryan Albright, the only person who knows Kate well enough to completely disrupt her life, shows up to complete the mission that Kate’s husband assigned him years ago. And this disruption has repercussions for everyone, including Kate, who now has to decide if she can face up to the lie she told.
Navigating the slums of 1970’s Glasgow, Jack Laidlaw, a hardened detective who is both more intelligent and more humane than he seems, investigates the murder of an 18-year-old girl. Because the reader is told the identity of the killer from the start of the book, the question is no longer “whodunnit,” but instead, who is going to find him first—Laidlaw, or the crooks who control the city?
A Dish of Spurs
On the Scottish and English borders, the year 1542 looks like this: hardened criminal reiver groups who pillage and plunder without fear. And it takes its toll. Mintie Henderson is a fifteen-year old who just witnessed the murder of her father. Desperate for revenge, but knowing she’s unlikely to get it with the recent death of the Scottish King, she unites with the hardened, one-armed Batty Coalhouse on a journey to justice.
And good thing, because when Mintie and Batty find themselves in the chaos that is Mary Queen of Scots versus King Henry the VIII, the only way they’ll make it out alive is to fight.
Diane Jager is a successful, well-known surgeon by day, and vocal “sexism in medical” blogger by night. And with the chaos of two demanding careers, it’s easy for one to be unlucky in love. But then the media discovers that Diane is the voice behind the feminist blog, and she moves to a new town to escape the backlash. It’s then that she meets Peter. Peter very quickly ends up being her perfect match, and they’re married six months after they meet. But their whirlwind marriage ends when Peter is murdered six months after they’re married. Peter’s sister assigns Jack Parlabane, a reporter still scorned from a recent and difficult divorce, with the task of discovering the identity of the media’s recent obsession and Peter’s supposed killer: the Black Widow.
Candles and Roses
DI Alex McKay can’t stop thinking about a missing young woman - one that reminds him incessantly of the loss of his own daughter. Though the case seems to be going nowhere, the body of a young woman, surrounded by candles and roses, randomly turns up. And then another. And then another…
Through the turbulence of a crumbling marriage, and a separate investigation from the young woman who discovered the first body, McKay is forced to face his own demons in order to uncover the true motive and catch the killer.
Dark Is the Day
When a killer starts assaulting and killing people in a Scottish college town, Jim Carruthers and his team are on the hunt to find him. But the case only gets more and more difficult for Jim, as he has to contend with his boss Sandra McTavish, newly appointed following his demotion, and the horrifying discovery that his ex-wife Mairi may be the next victim.
Putting his personal feelings aside, Carruthers races to answer the questions everyone’s asking: What is the victim’s connection to the North American cult that’s taking this Scottish university by storm? Why have these women been targeted? And, most importantly, who is doing the killing?
Forty years ago, saying the name Rachel McMahon was like saying “Voldemort”—it was evil, unheard of, and completely taboo. That’s what happens when you brutally murder four men. Now a 60-year-old soup kitchen volunteer who has repented for her sins, Rachel is released from prison and ready to retire to the quiet Scottish countryside to live out the rest of her days.
But then the murders start up again. And the crimes look eerily similar to the ones Rachel committed forty years ago. Has Rachel struck again, or should DCI Hazel Todd be setting her sights on a copycat killer?
In Shetland, Scotland, a young girl is murdered on New Year’s Eve. Magnus Tait, a lonely outcast with limited mental capacity, is instantly accused for the murder of Catherine Ross for two reasons: one, he had stayed home on New Year’s Eve in anticipation of guests coming over, (though they never did) and two, he had been a suspect in Catriona Bruce’s disappearance several years before (though they never found her body). DIs Jimmy Perez and Roy Taylor arrest Magnus on a charge of circumstantial evidence, but as they collect clues, they realize that they’re pointing to a different, unknown killer.
Detective Harry McCoy is morally flawed himself, but also equally an old school cop. So when Harry learns that a teenage boy shot a young woman to death, and then shot himself, in the middle of a bustling Glasgow street, he knows he has to do something. Guiding his new partner, Wattie, through dark allies with the prostitutes, criminals, and the homeless that are well-known to 1973 Glasgow, the bodies begin to pile up. Eventually the two are led to believe that the Dunlops, a wealthy, powerful family from Glasgow, are behind it all.
The two are warned to pick a new suspect, because with wealth comes influence, and that influence could be really bad for Harry. But Harry’s past proves that he’s attune to bending the rules, so the only question that remains is whether or not Harry can use his own influence to figure out who’s doing all the killing.
Knots and Crosses
When a serial killer starts kidnapping and murdering young girls in Edinburgh, John Rebus is on the case. Rebus joined the Edinburgh police force 15 years ago, after leaving the SAS a profoundly troubled man. While navigating his drinking problem, failed marriage, and distant relationship with his teenage daughter, Rebus also begins receiving cryptic, anonymous letters. And on top of it all, he has a reporter on his tail trying to pin him for a crime he isn’t committing.
The bodies pile up, the letters keep on coming, and even though it’s clear that the murderer has a fixation on Rebus himself, he is so traumatized from his SAS days that he can’t think of anyone who would want to target him. He has all the pieces to the puzzle - but can he put them together to figure out who’s doing all the killing?
Dark is the Grave
DCI Duncan Bone took a medical leave from the police force following the death of the Peek-A-Boo-Killer, a serial killer who brutally murdered female cops and got it all on tape. Bone now suffers from debilitating PTSD, hallucinations, and other psychological damage that destroyed his marriage and limited the time he can spend with his young son.
So when Bone receives another tape in the mail a year later of another female colleague being viciously murdered, he knows he needs to act before the copycat killer can kill anyone else. But with time running out, can Bone confront his wounded and terrifying past before anyone else is slain?