5 Books, 1 City: from academic horrors to a messed up ‘polis’ or two in Edinburgh

The New York Times recently ran a piece that highlighted one horror novel from each US State and I thought it was an amazing idea. I wanted to do something similar on here without it being a complete rip off so I came up with listing (at least) 5 “essential” novels all based in one city. So, this is almost limitless right? I’m starting off close to home with Edinburgh.

The Matrix by Jonathan Aycliffe

Not that one. There’s not a whole lot of horror set in Scotland and with Aycliffe I feel like you’re always in steady hands for a good read. The Matrix also scratches that dark academia itch as well.

Blurb After the death of his beloved wife, Andrew Macleod finds solace in his research in Edinburgh.His interest in the ancient practices of magic is purely academic until the soothingly hypnotic rituals and mysterious ceremonies begin to lure him into a consuming quest for knowledge.When his passion escalates into an obsession for power and mastery, Andrew unwittingly becomes the apprentice of Duncan MyIne, who has a strange hold over him. Though Andrew fears MyIne’s menacing tutelage, he allows himself to be drawn deeper into an inner circle of evil.When he finally discovers the demented motivation behind MyIne’s interest in him, it is too late for redemption, poised as he is on the edge of the horrific abyss between life and death…

Filth by Irvine Welsh

When you think of Edinburgh and Irvine Welsh the mind automatically goes to Trainspotting, which is exactly why I’ve not listed it here. Filth is equally worthy of your attention IMO. Experimental, twisted and darkly funny this is one of my favourite Welsh novels.

BlurbWith the festive season almost upon him, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson is winding down at work and gearing up socially – kicking off Christmas with a week of sex and drugs in Amsterdam. There are irritating flies in the ointment, though, including a missing wife, a nagging cocaine habit, a dramatic deterioration in his genital health, a string of increasingly demanding extra-marital affairs. The last thing he needs is a messy murder to solve. Still it will mean plenty of overtime, a chance to stitch up some colleagues and finally clinch the promotion he craves. But as Bruce spirals through the lower reaches of degradation and evil, he encounters opposition – in the form of truth and ethical conscience – from the most unexpected quarter of all: his anus.

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

Usually I’d be loathe to include “classics” in a list like this because they’re often so painfully, utterly dull, but I’m making an exception for Memoirs because it’s a decent read. Seriously, it’s much less of a bawache than the blurb suggests…

BlurbConsidered by turns part-gothic novel, part-psychological mystery, part-metafiction, part-satire, part-case study of totalitarian thought, it can also be thought of as an early example of modern crime fiction in which the story is told, for the most part, from the point of view of its criminal anti-hero. The action of the novel is located in a historically definable Scotland with accurately observed settings, and simultaneously implies a pseudo-Christian world of angels, devils, and demonic possession. The narrative is set against the antinomian societal structure flourishing in the borders of Scotland in Hogg’s day.

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

I don’t know if you could call this the best Rebus novel but it is the first and in order to begin you must begin at the beginning and this…this is that beginning. I’m not the biggest crime fiction fan in the world but I do enjoy Rankin’s work and Knots and Crosses is as good an introduction to it as any.

Blurb‘And in Edinburgh of all places. I mean, you never think of that sort of thing happening in Edinburgh, do you…?’ ‘That sort of thing’ is the brutal abduction and murder of two young girls. And now a third is missing, presumably gone to the same sad end. Detective Sergeant John Rebus, smoking and drinking too much, his own young daughter spirited away south by his disenchanted wife, is one of many policemen hunting the killer. And then the messages begin to arrive: knotted string and matchstick crosses – taunting Rebus with pieces of a puzzle only he can solve.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is arguably the Edinburgh novel and if you don’t fancy reading it I’d also recommend the 1969 film starring Maggie ‘before McGonnagall” Smith.

BlurbAt the staid Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland, teacher extraordinaire Miss Jean Brodie is unmistakably, and outspokenly, in her prime. She is passionate in the application of her unorthodox teaching methods and strives to bring out the best in each one of her students. Determined to instill in them independence, passion, and ambition, Miss Brodie advises them, “Safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth, and Beauty come first. Follow me.” And they do–but one of them will betray her. 

So, there we have it, five novels set in Edinburgh. Spot any favourites or have any suggestions of what city to cover next? Drop a comment below.

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