16 must read Edinburgh-set books and crime series to check out during lockdown

With book sales soaring during the latest lockdown, Evening News Entertainment Editor Liam Rudden checks out the best Edinburgh set books and crime series that really should be on your reading list.

By Liam Rudden
Saturday, 30th January 2021, 7:00 am
Books to read in lockdown
Books to read in lockdown

Must Read: Luckenbooth, Jenni Fagan

One of the hottest titles around right now, Jenni Fagan's Luckenbooth has won all round acclaim. It tells the stories tucked away on every floor of No 10 Luckenbooth Close, an archetypal Edinburgh tenement: The devil's daughter rows to the shores of Leith in a coffin. The year is 1910 and she has been sent to a tenement building in Edinburgh by her recently deceased father to bear a child for a wealthy man and his fiancée. The harrowing events that follow lead to a curse on the building and its residents...Over nine decades, No 10 becomes home to an infamous madam, a spy, a famous Beat poet, a coal miner who fears daylight, a psychic and others. All are plagued by the building's troubled history. As the curse creeps up the nine floors, an enraged spirit world swells to the surface, desperate for the true horror of the building's longest kept secret to be heard. www.jennifagan.com

Crime: Inspector Rebus Books, Ian Rankin

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Authors to read in lockdown

Chances are, when asked to name an Edinburgh copper, the first to spring to mind would be Rebus. There are now 23 novels featuring the Capital’s most famous policeman, Detective Inspector John Rebus, a hard drinking, music loving and somewhat cantankerous Fifer who spent much of his service working out of St Leonard's. The best-selling series that made crime writer Ian Rankin a household name follows Rebus from Detective Sergeant through his years as a DI and on to retirement. Read each book as a stand alone, or binge from the beginning. www.ianrankin.net

Historical Thrillers: Jem Flockhart Series, ES Thomson

A woman in a man's world, Jem Flockhart's true sex is known to but a few. A mid-nineteenth century apothecary, a time when a woman’s pace was in the home, Jem, together with side-kick and best friend, architect Will Quartermain, investgates murder in Victorian London but on occasion her investigations bring her the Edinburgh. Local writer ES Thomson first introduced readers to her cross-dressing investigator in the 2016 novel Beloved Poison. She has since returned in Dark Asylum (2017), The Blood (2018) and Surgeons’ Hall (2019). A fifth novel, Nightshade, is published on April 15, in which Jem finds herself turning her attention to Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garderns. www.esthomson.co.uk

Medical Thrillers: Dr Steven Dunbar Novels, Ken McClure

Author and serving police officer Lee Cockburn

Dr Steven Dunbar of the secret government department the Sci Med Inspectorate first featured in the 1999 novel ​Donor​ and has since appeared in 12 investigations. An ex-Forces field medic, Dunbar is charged with investigating crimes linked to science in general and medical science in particular. Edinburgh scientist turned thriller writer Ken McClure's novels are famously ahead of the curve and have proved chillingly prescient in the past. In the series, Dunbar has come up against ​everything from ​Ebola​ and ​​p​andemic ​f​lu ​to ​an outbreak of Smallpox in Muirhouse. ​With a huge following in Europe, the latest of McClure's award-winning novels, Miasma, hit No 1 in the best seller list in the Czech Republic.​ ​www.kenmcclure.com

Classic: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

Take a trip back to the Edinburgh of the 1930's in the company of one of Scotland's best loved literary characters, Miss Jean Brodie. ​First ​publi​shed ​in The New Yorker magazine​ and then in book form in ​1961​, the novel tells the story of six ​10​-year-old girls​ ​and their unconventional teacher Brodie,​ a woman in her ​prime, ​who shares her​ ​thoughts on love, life​, ​travels,​ ​art and fascism​ with her '​elite​' pupils.​​ Muriel Spark's creation is for many the creme de la creme. www.toppingbooks.co.uk

Comic Crime Thriller: Hit Me, Alex BrownCrime and humour go hand in hand in Niddrie-born Alex Brown's laugh out loud debut novel Hit Me, which tells the tale of Barnabas Wild. The ex-boxer hires a hit man to take him out after he is wrongly diagnosed with terminal cancer. With acute illness phobia, Wild can’t deal with facing down the disease and persuades a gangster friend to help him organise his own gnarly demise. However, things take an unexpected turn when he discovers his diagnosis was a mistake… but can he evade the highly-skilled assassin? Get ready to loose yourself in an Edinburgh peopled by characters like the Ladbrokes Mafia, Rab ‘Crazy Horse’ Lawrie and Tesco Tam. Brown's second novel, Niddrie Boys, is due out in March. www.amazon.co.uk

Pandemic Crime: Health of Strangers Books, Lesley Kelly​Right now, Lesley Kelly's Health of Strangers thriller series has its finger firmly on the pulse. Set in a near-future Edinburgh in the aftermath of a global pandemic, Kelly's heroine, Mona, works for the North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team​​​ (HET)​, ​a body ​set up to track down ​citizens who miss their monthly health check. ​T​he T​rinity​ author first introduced readers to the HET in her 2017 novel The Health of Strangers​, which was followed by Songs by Dead Girls (2018)​, ​Death at the Plague Museum (2019)​ and Murder at the Music Factory (2019)​. All four books are laced with a nice line in dark humour. Be warned, however, Kelly​'s gripping novels have proved ​more ​prophetic​ than even she could ever have imagined. www.lesleykelly.co.uk

Supernatural Crime: Inspector McLean Series, James OswaldBringing a more supernatural slant to policing in the Capital, award-winning James Oswald releases What Will Burn, the eleventh novel of his Inspector McLean series, on February 18. The supernatural and the sinister frequently collide on the streets of Edinburgh when Tony McLean is around. The character first appeared in the best-selling 2012 novel Natural Causes​. Then McLean lived at 19, East Preston Street​,​​ and was a regular at the fictional Newington Arms​. In the series, Oswald uses Edinburgh's often dark and grisly past to colour his unputdownable novel​s, you'll be surprised by how many locations you recognise. www.jamesoswald.co.uk

Victorian Crime: Inspector Jeremy Faro​ Series, Alanna ​Knight​

During her life, the late ​Alanna Knight was​ the doyen of historic Edinburgh crime. Her hero, Inspector Faro, inspired by innovative Capital detective James McLevy, ​featured in no less than 17 novels. The first, Enter Second Murderer, was published in 1988, the last​, The Dower House Mystery​, in 2019, a year before her death in December 2020 at the age of 97. Painting evocative scenes of Victorian Edinburgh and Leith, Knight's series is very readable indeed. www.amazon.co.uk

Crime Procedural: DS Taylor Nicks Books, Lee CockburnPolicing the Capital, DS Taylor Nicks and DC Marcus Black get themselves into all sorts of scrapes courtesy of crime writer and serving police officer Lee Cockburn. Drawing on her own experiences with Lothian and Borders and Police Scotland, Cockburn paints graphic depictions of policing in the Capital in her unique pacey, unpadded style which features murder and mayhem from the first page. Her crime-fighting duo have to date appeared in three novels Devil's Demise (2014), Porcelain (2017) and Demon's Fire (2019). www.amazon.co.uk

Police Procedural: DCI Grace Macallan Novels, Peter RitchieMusselburgh-based former senior police office turned crime-writer Peter Ritchie introduced readers to DCI Grace Macallan in his gritty 2017 crime novel, Cause of Death. With her career stalled after a covert police operation in Northern Ireland went wrong, Macallan is reassigned to the newly formed Lothian & Borders Major Crime Team just as a brutal attack on a prostitute turns into a series of murders. ​​Macallan returns in Evidence of Death (2018)​, ​Shores of Death (2018)​, ​Where No Shadows Fall (2019)​ and ​Our Little Secrets (2019)​. www.peterritchie.co.uk

Historical Crime: Frey and McGray Novels, Oscar de MurielOscar de Muriel’s Victorian detectives Frey and McGray police a very different Edinburgh to the one we know. It's one the writer creates in great detail in this gripping series of crime investigations with a dark twist. Local Inspector Adolphous 'Nine Nails' McGray and Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Frey make an unlikely pairing, squabbling as much as solving crimes in de Muriel's rich page-turners. Get ready to be transported back in time to a very different but instantly recognisable Edinburgh in The Strings of Murder (2015), A Fever of the Blood (2016), A Mask of Shadows (2017), The Loch of the Dead​, ​(2018), The Darker Arts (2019) and The Dance of the Serpents (2020). www.oscardemuriel.com

Future Crime: Quintillian Dalrymple Books, Paul JohnstonIn the far future, the Edinburgh of investigator Quintillian Dalrymple is a dystopian world in which isolation is not unusual for many. Johnston has placed Quint, as he is known, into a Capital ruled by the restrictive Council of City Guardians. Everything that happens is done for the tourist and life in the city has become a year round festival. Against that backdrop, Quint is a reluctant go to for the city's powerful when gruesome crimes occur. Quint first appeared in Body Politic in 1997 and then in The Bone Yard (1998), Water of Death (1999), The Blood Tree (2000), The House of Dust (2001), Heads or Hearts (2015), Skeleton Blues (2015) and Impolitic Corpses (2019).www.paul-johnston.co.uk

Gothic Thriller: Hyde, Craig RussellFrom international bestseller Craig Russell, Hyde, due to be published on March 4​,​ has already been hailed a 'modern Gothic masterpiece'. Captain Edward Hyde of the Edinburgh police has a strange gift – or a curse – he keeps secret from all but his physician. He experiences two realities, one real, the other a dreamworld state brought on by a neurological condition. When murders in Victorian Edinburgh echo the ancient Celtic threefold death ritual, Captain Hyde must hunt those responsible. In the process he becomes entangled in a web of Celticist occultism and dark scheming by powerful figures... www.craigrussell.com

Classic Cult: Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh

Few novels can claim to have changed the literary world, arguably Trainspotting is one. ​First published in 1993​, Welsh's no holds barred story of a group of Leith heroin uses in the Eighties is already a modern classic. Written in the local vernacular, it made its protagonists Renton, Sickboy, Spud and Begbie household names. If you've not yet read it, lockdown is the perfect opportunity. www.irvinewelsh.net

Bob Skinner Series, Quintin Jardine

​Described as '​Edinburgh's hardest cop​', Detective Chief Superintendent Bob Skinner was introduced to readers ​as the head of Edinburgh's CID​ in​ the 1993 novel​, Skinner's Rules​. He ​has since starred in another 31 investigations​ during which he has r​isen through the ranks to ​C​hief ​Constable​ before ​fall​ing​ foul of his political masters over the ​formation of ​creation of ​Police Scotland. ​The great thing about a series like this is, if you love the first one, there's plenty more to keep you going through lockdown.www.amazon.co.uk

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