Noir novels are frequently associated with America–big hitters like Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Dorothy B. Hughes, and Jim Thompson all come from the United States. But noir has spread around the world since it separated itself from the hardboiled crime genre.
Tartan noir, unsurprisingly, finds its home in Scotland, the land of tartan and kilts. Although some Scottish writers deride the title, feeling it to be overly “othering” and tourist-centric, Tartan noir is one of the most productive and well-beloved subgenres of noir today. Never dipped a toe into this misty, moody genre? Try one of these Scottish mystery writers.
Often called the “father of Tartan Noir”, McIlvanney’s legendary status makes him as a good a writer as any to begin your descent into the genre. McIlvanney wasn’t just a crime writer–he also wrote philosophical and literary novels. But Laidlaw, his crime trilogy, ushered in a new era of noir and crime fiction in Scotland.
The Distant Echo
Val McDermid is one of the most prolific and beloved modern writers of Tartan noir. Her novels lean heavily into the violent side of noir, while featuring women more frequently than is often expected of noir. Her Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, which has been adapted as an ITV television series, Wire in the Blood, is among her most popular work and her most intense.
Knots and Crosses
One of the best known Scottish writers, Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels are beloved both in and out of Scotland. The Rebus novels, unlike so many other crime series, benefit strongly from reading in chronological order. Jump in with the stunning and stellar Knots and Crosses.
Kiss Her Goodbye
Guthrie taps into the dark side of noir and Edinburgh in his bleak crime fare. Guthrie’s second offering, Kiss Her Goodbye, was written for the Hard Case Crime series, and offers some of his best and most brutal writing.
The Cutting Room
If you’ve enjoyed the twisty paths of novels written by authors like Sarah Waters, especially her spectacular Fingersmith, you’ll love Louise Welch. Set in modern Glasgow, Welsh’s first novel follows an auctioneer who discovers a set of photographs that show the images of what appear to be a horrible crime.
Mina’s writing career has been long, varied, and award-winning. Perhaps best known for adapting The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as a graphic novel, Mina’s original work should not be forgotten. The Garnethill trilogy takes Maureen O’Donnell as its narrator, a woman who has accidentally ended up in the midst of some horrifying cases. In the first installment, Maureen awakens to discover her boyfriend’s dead body–and she’s the prime suspect.
Related: 10 Thrilling Nordic Noir Novels
Truth Lies Bleeding
Tony Black’s writing is as dark as his name. If you’re a fan of bleak, realistic, hardboiled noir, take on the first installment in his DI Rob Brennan series, Truth Lies Bleeding. DI Brennan struggles in his return to work after his younger brother was shot and killed–and the magnitude of the case awaiting him doesn’t make it any easier.
Quite Ugly One Morning
Like some humor with your noir? Try on Brookmyre for size. His thrilling Tartan Noir is darkly hilarious, tightly plotted, and sure to please. Jack Parlabane, Brookmyre’s most beloved character, often stumbles into the answers of his crimes along the way to a bar. Try Quite Ugly One Morning to dip your toes into Brookmyre’s fiction.
Cleeves’s most beloved creation is Vera Stanhope, made famous by the Masterpiece Theatre series Vera. But Vera is a bit cozy for the tastes of noir fans. Not to worry–Cleeves’s Shetland Island series runs much darker. Like the island they’re set on, these novels are bleak, dramatic, and cold.
Take a Breath
Paisley is a newcomer to the Tartan Noir scene, but her debut novel has already claimed its place alongside classics of the genre. Digging into organized crime in Glasgow, Take a Breath follows drug-dealing Paul and his beloved, Lena, as they struggle to get out–and stay out–of the dark underbelly of the city.