The Edinburgh Mystery and Other Tales of Scottish Crime edited by Martin Edwards

Taking the low road…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Another anthology of vintage crime from the British Library, this one has the theme of Scottish stories – either stories written by Scots, or written by people from elsewhere (generally England) but set in Scotland. There are seventeen stories in total, though a handful of them are very short and quite slight. There’s the usual mix of weel-kent names, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson; some regulars of these anthologies, such as Michael Innes and GK Chesterton; and several that I’ve never come across before. Some of my favourite stories were from these never previously encountered writers, of whom several were Scottish, so that pleased my patriotic little soul and has given me a few names to investigate further – always one of the pleasures of these anthologies. The geographical spread is good too – a few of the stories are set in the big cities, but the writers have taken full advantage of the less populated areas of the Highlands and the Borders too.

In terms of quality, there was only one outright dud and that was the Chesterton story. However, regular readers of my reviews might remember that I can’t stand Chesterton’s silly religiosity, and he compounded his usual faults in this one by throwing in just about every negative Scottish stereotype you can think of, so I suspect my rating is quite subjective! Of the rest, I rated ten as either good, very good or excellent, which makes this one of the stronger of these collections. I really liked the variety – everything from humour, both dark and light, to veering towards the noir end of crime fiction, and Edwards has picked a lot of stories that show different aspects of Scottish life, from urban to rural to wilderness, from the mean streets of Glasgow to the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ Lairds of the Highlands. The vast majority of the stories are about the middle or upper classes but that’s standard for British vintage crime generally.

Here’s a flavour of a few of the ones I enjoyed most:

A Medical Crime by J Storer Clouston – Carrington, a sort of consulting detective, tells of a case in Kinbuckie, a smallish town where a series of burglaries have taken place. The local provost has asked Carrington to investigate, since the police seem baffled. The local Superintendent tells Carrington that there are signs that lead him to believe one of the six local doctors must be involved, and Carrington has to work out which. He uses some clever trickery to do just that. An excellent story, well-written and clever enough to be enjoyable though I did have my suspicions which proved to be right for once. But what lifts it is the gentle humour that Clouston pokes at small-town Scottish prejudices. Lots of fun!

Footsteps by Anthony Wynne – Starring Dr Hailey, who was Wynne’s regular detective. Here he is invited to visit a friend who is staying in an old Scottish castle, where a few years earlier the Laird’s wife had died and the Laird had killed himself. Now ghostly footsteps sound along the corridors and Hailey’s friend’s nerves are frayed to breaking point. Hailey is a strictly rational man, so sets out to discover the truth of the footsteps and in so doing uncovers a dark story of jealousy and murder. A delightfully creepy start to this one and it gradually becomes very dark towards the end. Wynne uses the Gothic setting to create a deliciously sinister and spooky atmosphere.

The Body of Sir Henry by Augustus Muir. MacIver, now a bigwig in the police, tells a tale of when he was a young beat policeman in the Borders. One rainy night a car stops and the driver asks him for directions to a nearby village where there is only one big house (the obvious inference being that anyone who could afford a car back then must be gentry). As the car drives away, it is suddenly lit up by the reflection of its headlights in a shop window, and MacIver sees that the back seat is occupied by a beautiful woman… and what looks to him like a dead man! He decides to follow them on his bicycle to the big house to investigate. The mystery element of this is very slight but the story-telling is great, with a touch of creepiness, some humour and a healthy dash of danger.

The Running of the Deer by PM Hubbard. Our narrator, himself a member of the gentry, has been asked by a friend to supervise the culling of the deer hinds on the friend’s estate. The other two men who are helping with the culling seem to be a little at odds with each other. During the hunt, something spooks the deer and they begin to run towards the stalkers. In the ensuing chaos, one of the two men dies. Accident? Or murder? A very well-written story, full of great descriptions of the hills in winter and of the traditions and rules surrounding deer-stalking, and the behaviour patterns of deer. The strength of the central story is all in the ambiguity of it. My favourite story of the collection!

So loads of variety and lots of writers who deserve to be much better known than they are. I’m off now to see if any of their books are in print!

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29 thoughts on “The Edinburgh Mystery and Other Tales of Scottish Crime edited by Martin Edwards

  1. Well, you’ve helped settle my mind on the Chesterton score. I haven’t read anything by him (except maybe one or two stories in an anthology) and I was always wondering if I was missing out…

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    • I know loads of people love Chesterton, but I’ve never understood why. It’s not the religion itself that puts me off, it’s the silly way he uses it. And really he nearly always manages to annoy me with some kind of unfortunate stereotype – this time it was Scots but in the past it’s been Jews or Protestants or foreigners or just about anyone except Catholics! 😉

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  2. This looks like a great collection, FictionFan! And most of them do sound like terrific stories, so the fact that there was one dud for you isn’t a bad record at all. I do like it when there are lesser-known authors included with the more famous ones. It’s a great way to learn more about them in my opinion. And with Edwards at the helm, you probably knew this would be a solid group of stories.

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    • Yes, one dud in a whole anthology is pretty good going! I find more and more often that it’s the lesser known authors that I prefer in these anthologies, perhaps because they specialise in short stories and that’s why they’re lesser known, although that’s pure speculation on my part. But in this one I was glad that some of the authors I liked most were the Scottish ones… 😀

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  3. This sounds a wonderful collection, with the range of shades appealing a lot. It does seem to have it all (humour, noir, gothic tones, and glimpses of Scottish life and the place), and I’m glad to hear that there was only one real dud. I’ve read the Father Browns ages ago and I didn’t get along with them as well as I’d hoped to, though I did enjoy his bio of Dickens. I was hoping to five the FBs another chance at some point but now am wondering, ha ha ha.

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    • I’ve only read some of his short stories, mostly Father Brown ones, and somehow I never get along with him. He always ends up irritating me with some form of unfortunate stereotyping, or by the really silly way that he uses religion – it’s not the religion itself I object to. The collection overall really was great though – I loved the variety in it. Sometimes in anthologies, especially themed ones, the various stories can feel a bit similar to each other but there was none of that in this one. A winner!

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  4. I’ve seen a few reviews of this collection recently and it seems as though it’s a particularly good one! The stories you’ve highlighted all sound great. If only I didn’t have so much else needing to be read at the moment!

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    • I definitely thought it was one of the best of these collections, although of course I may be biased because of the theme! And I really enjoyed the variety of styles in it, and the way it covered all the different areas of Scotland. I’m sure you could fit it in easily if you just gave up sleep! 😉

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  5. I’m glad you enjoyed this and hope you will remember that you did once your TBR goes up from adding all these new authors you’ve discovered!

    I’ve had Chesterton’s “Father Brown” stories on my Kindle for ages and will someday get to them. I like some of his work as a Christian apologist, so I hope I’ll enjoy them…. but if not, I seem to remember they were a free download. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I know – there ought to be a law against anthologies that add authors to my list!

      Certainly lots of people love the Father Brown stories, so hopefully you’ll be one of them. But I really have an allergic reaction to them – he always manages to annoy me with some unfortunate stereotype or other. This time it was Scots but in the past it’s been Jews or Protestants or just about any other group that he can think of! So my heart always sinks a little when I see him showing up in one of these anthologies… 😦

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s the hidden danger of anthologies, and I always end up with a list of authors to explore, but then often never manage to actually do it! But I must with this one, since a few of them were Scots…

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    • I know – there’s been loads of them now! I think there must be at least two a year, and in all that time there’s only been one duplicated story. Impressive!

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    • I never used to, till a combination of Tuesday Terror and all these BL anthologies forced me into it, but now I’m addicted to them! I like the combination of well-known authors and being introduced to new ones. 😀

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