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Category Archive for 'Scotland'

In this classic novel from 1977, Scottish author/poet William McIlvanney pulls out all the literary stops, creating a novel so filled with ideas, unique descriptions, and unusual characters that labeling it as one of the great crime novels does it a disservice. It is also a literary novel of stunning originality, so unusual for its time that it is now labeled as the first of the “Tartan noir” novels, with McIlvanney himself described as the “Scottish Camus.”* Two sequels – The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983), a Silver Dagger Award winner, and Strange Loyalties (1991), a winner of the Scottish Art Council Award – complete the story of Laidlaw. Despite his success and his prizes, however, McIlvanney’s “Tartan noir career” ended after these three novels, with the author concentrating instead on his poetry, literary fiction, screenplays, journalism, and essays – and winning prizes for his work in all of these genres. Inexplicably, considering the author’s successes and his prizes, all three of the Laidlaw novels have been long out of print – until this year – when Europa Editions in the US and Canongate Books in the UK decided to republish Laidlaw. The other two books in the Laidlaw series are scheduled for release this fall. This one is a true classic for anyone who wonders just how good a crime novel can be as Laidlaw holds to his own truths and refuses to succumb to the easy black and white view of the world so common to this genre.

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Helen, a young croupier on the night shift at a London casino, is traveling home during the wee hours in a taxi shared with two co-workers. When they stop at a traffic light, two men, obviously homeless and perhaps drunk, arrogantly step out from the curb just as the the light is about to change and walk slowly, at their own pace, across the street, seeming to dare the stopped cars to move when the light turns green. Wild-looking, scraggy, and rather frightening, one man makes Helen pay attention, though she hunches down in the back of the taxi to avoid being seen. “Brian, it was Brian,” she thinks in astonishment, “her brother Brian,” whom she has not seen for twelve years. Stunned, she silently begins to make excuses for “Brian’s” behavior at the street crossing, applying her memories of Brian’s mild personality to the behavior of the younger of the two strange men on the street. Establishing some of the novel’s main themes in this opening scene, which is more dramatic because of the violence which does not take place, author James Kelman follows Helen from that moment with “Brian” to her arrival at the home she shares with her six-year-old daughter and Mo, a South Asian man who represents “normality” to her. For the next twenty-four hours, Kelman keeps the reader inside Helen’s head as she tries to sort out her life and figure where she may be going.

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Not a traditional mystery, Kate Atkinson’s third Jackson Brodie novel grows instead out of the terrible traumas that children and young people must endure when people they love die violently. So marked are they by their sudden tragedies, that they never really escape their pasts, and spend the rest of their lives wondering “when will there be good news.” Five separate plot lines evolve and begin to overlap here, and in each of these plots the main characters are all needy people hiding an inner loneliness from which they would like to escape. In the first plot, Joanna Mason Hunter is a physician living in Edinburgh, the happily married mother of a one-year-old, a woman who appears to have it all, but thirty years ago, she escaped a slashing attack which murdered her mother, sister, and baby brother. Though she seems to have put her past to rest, the murderer of her family is about to be released from jail. Jackson appears on the scene when he is nearly killed in a train crash on the way to Edinburgh. The narrative speeds along, ironies abound, and mistaken identities create some bizarre and sometimes darkly humorous scenes.

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In a book that is pure unadulterated fun, Kate Atkinson creates her second Jackson Brodie mystery (2006), featuring a series of bizarre characters, all involved with murder–either planning it, committing it, or trying to avoid it. Many seemingly unrelated characters, involved in several seemingly unrelated plot lines, make their appearance in the first fifty pages. In the main plot line, an Edinburgh automobile accident leaves “Paul Bradley,” a mysterious man and innocent victim, at the mercy of a crazed, baseball bat-wielding Honda driver. A witness, Martin Canning, the timid writer of Nina Riley mystery stories, reacts instinctively to the impending carnage, hurling his laptop at the Honda driver and saving “Paul Bradley” from certain death. A second set of characters revolves around Graham Hatter, the wealthy developer of Hatter Homes, who is in trouble for bribery, money laundering, and fraud in the building of cheap tract houses. Jackson Brodie, former cop and private investigator, in Edinburgh for a drama festival in which his girlfriend is involved, introduces a third plot line when he discovers a woman’s body on the rocks beside the ocean.

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Jackson Brodie, a former police inspector turned private investigator, is investigating three old cases, which soon begin to converge and then overlap. Three-year-old Olivia Land disappeared without a trace thirty-five years ago while sleeping in a tent with one of her sisters, two of whom have hired Jackson to find out what happened to her. Theo Wyre has hired him to investigate the death of his daughter Laura, his much-loved 18-year-old daughter, who was slashed and killed by a maniac ten years before while working in her father’s office. Theo, having spent ten years accumulating information, has turned over a roomful of files to Jackson. Shirley Morrison, Jackson’s third client, is trying to locate her sister and her niece. Her sister Michelle, married at eighteen and living with her husband and screaming daughter on an isolated farm, has vanished from Shirley’s life, and after twenty-five years, Shirley wants to find her. Filled with ironies and noir humor, the novel also reflects Atkinson’s astute observation of social interactions, as she skewers some aspects of her characters’ lives at the same time that she manages to create interest and even sympathy for them.

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