Review: Bloody Scotland anthology

Various authors – Bloody Scotland

Published by Historic Environment Scotland, paperback £8.99. I received a free proof copy of the hardback edition (HES, £12.99) for review purposes.

To celebrate its sixth birthday, the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival produced this anthology in association with Historic Environment Scotland (HES) as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

A dozen top Scots crime writers celebrate 12 of the country’s greatest built sites by setting a story in each place. In his introduction to these 12 tales tall and true, HES publisher James Crawford describes the collection as “a tribute to two of our nation’s greatest assets”, and the selected authors showcase both the breadth of Scotland’s built wonders and the myriad styles and sensibilities that make up its flourishing crime writing scene.

Lin Anderson opens the collection by taking us to 12th Century Orkney, and a Viking raid which has repercussions for her modern-day criminal psychologist, Magnus. Val McDermid brings us back to the mainland with a tale of romance and disaster featuring the Hermit’s Castle in Assynt, so vividly described I could almost smell the sea as I read it. ES Thomson moves us to the industrial site of Stanley Mills on the River Tay, and evokes the dust and noise of the textile factory as deftly as the girls work the looms.

Doug Johnstone made great use of the looming presence of the Forth Bridge in his 2016 McIlvanney-shortlisted novel The Jump; here he shows how it both links and divides those living on the north and south sides of the Forth. Moving west, Chris Brookmyre turns everything up to 11 with his tale of two light-fingered individuals getting caught up in something bigger and stranger than they could ever imagine on a day trip to Bothwell Castle.

In “Sanctuary”, Sara Sheridan changes the tone and pace sharply. Kinneil House in Bo’ness may be in large parts derelict, but as the new caretaker, Linda, discovers in this ghostly tale, it is still full of life.Stuart MacBride takes us to Fraserburgh, and back to a time when Kinnaird Head was a manned lighthouse. The wind and rain build to a hurricane, mirroring the escalation of the story from mildly odd to downright terrifying.

Out of the rain, but still in a dark place, Gordon Brown mixes personal history with the stones of Glasgow’s Crookston Castle. Jamie thought he had escaped his past, but discovers that family is always with you. Louise Welsh’s gripping tale of destruction and creation is centred on a man trying to put himself back together after the horrors of the Second World War, using Crossraguel Abbey in South Ayrshire as something of a touchstone. Craig Robertson explored urbexing – urban exploration – from a human perspective in his novel In Place Of Death; here he takes us out to St Peter’s Seminary to show us a literal bird’s-eye view with The Twa Corbies of Cardross, delivering a brilliant twist.

A visit to Edinburgh Castle will never be the same again after reading Denise Mina’s tale of a holidaying family having their world turned upside down. It’s vicious, disorienting and finally simply horrifying. And for the final story, Ann Cleeves takes us to Shetland, where Eleanor finds a new lease of life after choosing her own path out of the situation she has been forced into.

Like the most wonderful box of chocolates, this anthology delivers treat after treat, each with a different but harmonious flavour heightening the experience. A dozen great writers. A dozen great places. A killer combination.

This review was first published in The Scotsman on 9 September, 2017. This is copyright of The Scotsman Publications and is being used in this instance with their kind permission.

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