The Edinburgh Mystery and other Tales of Scottish Crime Edited by Martin Edwards
This varied and enjoyable anthology of short stories edited by the vastly knowledgeable Martin Edwards reflects the output of Scottish authors and stories set in the dramatic landscapes of Scotland itself. In his fascinating Introduction, Edwards points out that while the phrase “Tartan Noir” reflects the current crime writing trend for successful Scottish authors, the background of excellence of Scottish crime fiction extends many decades back.
Accordingly Edwards has brought us a collection of stories that, while not all are set in the country, reflect the diversity of output from Scottish sources from 1885 to 1974. While I always look to discover Golden Age and Second World War based novels, this wide time span kept me greatly entertained while on my yearly visit to Scotland, and I certainly enjoyed the way that the countryside was reflected in several of these stories. After all, in sparsely populated areas of the countryside the suspects are few and there are unexpected dangers. I really enjoyed this book and am so grateful for the opportunity to read and review it.
The novel opens with a convoluted story by the Scot Robert Louis Stevenson, where a crime results in a sort of mental torture of someone involved. There is an obvious need for the ultimate detective who, though English, was a product of Scottish imagination and observation. In “The Field Bazaar” a very short piece featuring Sherlock Holmes and Watson, he explains his reasoning once more to the incredulous doctor. One of the stories with the “slenderest” connection to Scotland in this collection features a society scandal and mystery from Baroness Orczy of Scarlet Pimpernel fame, but is certainly interesting and offers an implied view of the Scottish legal view of justice. G.K.Chesterton’s Father Brown reaches a quiet and unexpected conclusion to an incident. Anthony Wynne continues his reputation for “impossible crimes” with an unsettling mystery, while John Ferguson writes of an onboard romance. Josephine Tey’s story is of French foreboding, while others write of mysteries in various settings. The sporting possibilities of Scottish estates, fishing and shooting, take centre stage in some stories, while the final story is quite a twist.
It is obviously difficult to give a true flavour of each of the seventeen stories in this excellent book, especially while avoiding giving too much away about whodunnit, whydunnit or what on earth happened. This is especially true when, as Edwards says he has “aimed to showcase a diverse range of settings, styles and storylines”. There are several advantages to an excellent selection of stories like this one – it means that the reader can dip into short tales of crime and mystery and if they prove less than enthralling, they have not invested too much time and effort in trying to follow a full length novel. The variety of the stories means that there will be something for everyone, and the benefit of Edwards’ informative introduction to the life and times of each author means that it is perfectly possible to find longer and other works by a particular writer. As such, this book is a perfect depiction of Scottish writing of the twentieth century in itself, and a valuable introduction or reminder of writers with a diversity of approach. I really recommend this as an entertaining book to dip into, as well as increasing the appetite for further writing of the Golden Age and well beyond.