Scottish crime fiction continues to go from strength to strength, demonstrating an increasing variety and diversity in terms of style and content. Here are SWH!'s pick of the best crime novels of 2023, which makes just that point...
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The Murmurs is a novel that is difficult to categorise, but I'm going to give it a go. It's a genuinely unsettling and unexpected read, a new entry into the fine tradition of Scottish Gothic, touching on both the psychological and supernatural. The visions and premonitions know as the 'Murmurs' are genuinely terrifying and it's completely believable that those who experience them would go to extreme lengths to avoid reoccurrence. It's also a gripping thriller with enough twists and turns to make your head spin. It's Stephen King meets Daphne du Maurier with Robert Louis Stevenson's approval, but all Michael J Malone.
The Murmurs is published by Orenda Books
A great addition to the long tradition of the Glasgow Crime novel, Squeaky Clean both embraces and subverts the tropes which are associated with that genre. Callum McSorley shows an insider’s knowledge of Glasgow and those who live and work there. It's a novel inhabited by people you may know, or have heard talk of, or maybe even are. Shortlisted for both the Scottish Crime Debut of the Year and the McIlvanney Prize for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, deservedly winning the latter, Squeaky Clean heralds the arrival of an exciting and original new voice to Scottish writing.
Squeaky Clean is published by Pushkin Press
There must be a number of challenges when asked to write in the style of another writer, especially when they are a literary legend such as Raymond Chandler, but Denise Mina's 'Philip Marlowe Mystery' The Second Murderer manages to hit the noir notes Marlowe acolytes would expect, but brings them up-to-date, and made relevant to a modern readership. In terms of time and place, this is Marlowe's LA, where the moneyed movers and shakers in the Hollywood Hills mix with the residents on Skid Row, a culture clash which always brings conflict, but Denise Mina infuses events with her own sensibilities and style.
The Second Murderer is published by Harvill Secker
An Honourable Thief introduced leaders to Jonas Flynt and the Company of Rogues, and it was historical fiction at its most exciting - RL Stevenson meets Alexander Dumas meets '60s TV show The Flashing Blade. A Thief's Justice builds on that novel and cranks the action up a number of notches. As with the best series there are characters who we have quickly come to know and care about, and this time around we are introduced to new names expanding the world Douglas Skelton is building. The Company of Rogues is a series which can already be considered essential reading.
A Thief's Justice is published by Canelo
The term 'cosy crime' is one I heard for the first time this year, and although it has been applied to Murder At Holly House it is nowhere near adequate. Set in a small village in 1950s Yorkshire, all the expected characters are present and correct - landowner, vicar, gamekeeper, landlady, baker, etc... and, of course, the local police. It's all very 'Father Brown' (which I consider a very high complement) but this is still recognisably a Denzil Meyrick novel, you could say the place where the darkness and danger of DCI Daley meets the more couthy 'Tales of Kinloch' novellas. With further novels promised, this is another series set to run and run.
Murder At Holly House is published by Transworld Books