The Best of Crime Fiction 2019, So Far . . .

PART OF THE Under Blue Skies ISSUE

‘The trick was confidence. You can get away with anything if you act like you know what you’re doing.’

Scotland’s excellent crime writing community have been knocking it out the park in 2019, so if you’re really having trouble deciding what book to take to the beach, the hills, the tent, the caravan, or the swanky hotel (if you’re pushing the boat out), then look no further than this dazzling dozen . . .


Breakers by Doug Johnstone (Orenda Books)

Doug Johnstone’s latest novel has been generating the kind of reviews every writer dreams of, has been longlisted for the McIllvanney Prize, and comes recommended from the likes of Mark Billingham, James Oswald and Ian Rankin – we’re not going to argue with those plaudits!

The novel follows the troubled seventeen-year-old Tyler, who lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas, is caring for his sister and his drug-addict mum, and is bullied into robbing rich people’s homes by his older, tougher siblings. When one robbery goes disastrously wrong, Tyler not only has the the police to worry about but the ruthless crime lord, Deke Holt. Then, he meets posh girl Flick, and he thinks she may just be his salvation … unless he drags her down too.


Fallen Angel by Christopher Brookmyre (Little, Brown)

Christopher Brookmyre keeps getting better and better with each new novel, and he’s unafraid to push what can be done in crime writing. His new novel, Fallen Angel, also McIllvanney-longlisted, sees his characters in sunnier climes, but of course, darkness lurks . . .

When new nanny Amanda accompanies the accomplished Temple family to their seaside villa she finds that beneath the smiles is a family tragedy from the past. She begins to suspect one of them might be hiding the truth about what happened sixteen years ago, and finds herself in dangerous waters.

As ever, Brookmyre keeps the reader on their toes with this one – it’s full of brilliant twists and turns.


Thunder Bay by Douglas Skelton (Polygon)

Douglas Skelton leaves behind his familiar Glasgow settings for this pitch-perfect thriller set on the fictional Scottish island of Stoirm.

Reporter Rebecca Connolly sniffs a good story and travels to Stoirm when she hears that Roddie Drummond – charged but found Not Proven for the murder of his lover years before – is returning to the island for his mother’s funeral. Defying her editor’s wishes, Rebecca digs into the secrets surrounding Mhairi’s death, and her mysterious last words of Thunder Bay, the secluded spot on the west coast of the island where, according to local lore, the souls of the dead set off into the after life. Then another body is found . . .

With his signature jet-black humour, and the stamp of approval from a McIllvaney longlisting, this is the novel which should see Skelton take his rightful place at the top of Scottish crime writing.


Death at the Plague Museum by Lesley Kelly (Sandstone Press)

If you haven’t caught up with Lesley Kelly’s Health of Strangers series yet, then now is the time! The North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team is an uneasy mix of seconded police and health professionals charged with dealing with The Virus, a mutant – and deadly – strain of influenza that is running riot in the near future.

Death At The Plague Museum is book three, and follows the investigation of  the deaths or disappearance of three senior civil servants whose brief is management of the deadly Virus. Bernard, Mona and the rest of the hard-pressed Health Enforcement Team find themselves fighting not just the pandemic, but government secrets.


A Breath on Dying Embers by Denzil Meyrick (Polygon)

Released this month, the much-loved DCI Daley is back, along with fan favourite DS Scott, in this McIllvanney-longlisted seventh book in this series, which began with the bestselling Whisky From Small Glasses.

The UK Government are taking a high-powered group of businessmen and women on a tour of the British isles in a luxury cruiseship as part of a push for global trade. When they dock in Kinloch, one of the crew goes missing, and an elderly local ornithologist disappears, which DCI Daley must investigate. Then the arrival of a face from Daley’s past sends him into a tailspin while the lives of the passengers and crew of SS Great Britain, as well as the country’s economic future, hang in the balance.

Early reviews suggest that this is Meyrick’s best book yet, and for his diehard fans things might get emotional . . .


The Unquiet Heart by Kaite Welsh (Tinder Press)

Who doesn’t like a bit of murder, mystery and derring-do set in Victorian Edinburgh? Kaite Welsh’s Sarah Gilchrist series gives us all those delicious ingredients and more.

Sarah Gilchrist is a woman determined to make her own way in life, and to become a doctor, though her family insists she must marry the dull Miles Green. Yet, when a housemaid in Miles’s family is murdered, and it is Miles himself who comes under suspicion, she comes to his aid. She may not want to marry him, but she won’t see him accused of murder, especially when she has her own suspicions about the killer’s identity.


The Peat Dead by Allan Martin (Thunderpoint)

Scotland is not short on its fictional detectives, but we think it worth your time to introduce yourself to Detective Inspector Angus Blue, sent over to Islay to investigate when five corpses are dug up by a peat-cutter. All of them have been shot in the back of the head, execution style. It is soon discovered that the men were killed on a wartime base over 70 years ago, and that despite the intervening years, the truth behind the men’s deaths should stay hidden.

The Peat Dead has been shortlisted for the inaugural McIllvaney debut prize to be handed out at this year’s Bloody Scotland Festival in September. That’s a good enough endorsement for us!


Fixed Odds by William MacIntyre (Sandstone)

Robbie Munro returns in this fifth outing, defending George ‘Genghis’ McCann on a charge of burglary, and Oscar ‘the Showman’ Bowman, snooker champion, on betting fraud. Genghis has stolen – and lost – a priceless masterpiece, while Oscar doesn’t seem to have a defence of any kind. With another mouth to feed and promises of great rewards if he finds both painting and defence, Robbie has never been more tempted to fix the legal odds in his favour.

If you like your legal thrillers with pace, wit, good humour, and lots of fun, there is no better place to start than here!


Mr Todd’s Reckoning by Iain Maitland (Contraband)

We had to include this new novel from our friends at Contraband, despite the fact that it isn’t by a Scottish author, or has a Scottish setting. But it’s been garnering great reviews, and is surely ripe for adaptation. We’re keeping our fingers crossed!

Behind the normal door of a normal house, in a normal street, two men – father and son – are slowly driving each other insane.

Mr Todd is at his wits end. He’s been robbed of his job as a tax inspector and is now stuck at home with his son, Adrian, who has no job, no friends and stays at home all day, obsessively chopping vegetables and tap-tap-tapping on his computer. And he’s getting worse, disappearing for hours at a time, sneaking off to who-knows-where.

One of them is a psychopath and has developed a taste for killing. And he’ll kill again.


Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald (Orenda Books)

Helen Fitzgerald should be on everyone’s bookshelves. If you are interested in writers who are bold, exciting and unapologetic with their themes, characters and humour, then look no further.

Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation officer, dealing with some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line. Liam Macdowall was imprisoned for murdering his wife, and he’s published a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that makes him an unlikely hero – and a poster boy for Men’s Rights activists. When Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, she develops an obsession with Liam and his world. Then her son and Liam’s daughter form a relationship, and Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand of justice with devastating consequences. . .


February’s Son by Alan Parks (Canongate)

Bruised and battered from the events of debut Bloody January, Detective Harry McCoy returns for another breathless ride through the ruthless world of 1970s Glasgow.

Bodies are piling up with grisly messages carved into their chests. Rival gangs are competing for control of Glasgow’s underworld and it seems that Cooper, McCoy’s oldest friend, is caught up in it all. The laws of the street are changing as the wealthy and dangerous play for power. And the city’s killer continues his dark mission. Can McCoy keep his head up for long enough to solve the case?

Dark, pacy yet shot through with compassion on how justice is really served, Harry McCoy might just become your new favourite literary detective.


Perfect Crime by Helen Fields (Avon)

Helen Fields is now onto book five of her DI Callanach thrillers, and they keep getting better and better . . .

Stephen Berry is about to jump off a bridge until a suicide prevention counsellor stops him. A week later, Stephen is dead. Found at the bottom of a cliff, DI Luc Callanach and DCI Ava Turner are drafted in to investigate whether he jumped or whether he was pushed. As they dig deeper, more would-be suicides roll in: a woman found dead in a bath; a man violently electrocuted. But these are carefully curated deaths – nothing like the impulsive suicide attempts they’ve been made out to be.

Little do Callanach and Turner know how close their perpetrator is as, across Edinburgh, a violent and psychopathic killer gains more confidence with every life he takes…



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