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Issue 92 - Roddy Martine's View

Scotland Magazine Issue 92
April 2017


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Roddy Martine's View

Roddy Martine reflects on how Tartan Noir is good for tourism

What is it about Scotland's writers, their reading public, and the seemingly insatiable appetite for death? Or — not to put too fine a point on it — crime.

On the West Coast, the Scottish television series Taggart, created by Glenn Chandler and based on the Maryhill CID in Strathclyde, was essential viewing until it ran out of plots six years ago. In the aftermath, it appears that a violent resurgence was taking place on the East Coast. In Aberdeen, Stuart MacBride's Detective Sergeant Logan McRae keeps an eye on the Granite City. In Edinburgh, Ian Rankin has his Detective Inspector Rebus based at St Leonard's Police Station, which really exists; Quintin Jardine has his Head of CID Detective Inspector Bob Skinner; Ed James has his Detective Constable Scott Cullen, and Geraldine Galbraith has her Detective Inspector Alice Rice reporting to Leith. Lothian & Borders Police have never looked so impressive.

My remarkable friend Alanna Knight is currently launching her 21st Edwardian-era Inspector Faro mystery novel, this one set on Orkney, and, over in Fife, Val McDermid surely has another challenge for her clinical psychiatrist Dr Tony Hill. Last year, Christopher Brookmyre's Black Widow won the William McIlvanney Award for Crime Novel of the Year.

There is now even a Scottish International Crime Writing Festival, Bloody Scotland, which is taking place in Stirling from 8–10 September. Last year, 67 published crime writers took part in this feast of foul play and around 6,500 tickets were sold.

So is Scotland really such a violent, dangerous place to live? I don't believe so. I have lived here for most of my life and always cringe when I hear of the wholly unfounded and exaggerated reputations attributed to the back streets of our Scottish cities and towns. New York? Chicago? Detroit? I think not. Tartan Noir is to blame. But as Hollywood will tell you, crime sells. Where would our writers be without it? And what would I do without CSI?

I personally blame it on Scotland's cold dark winter nights: the empty streets after midnight and the sound of wind on the wasteland. After all, it is said that the ghosts of the body snatchers Burke and Hare still haunt the old cobbled vennels and closes of Edinburgh's Royal Mile. And don’t forget that the creator of Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective of all, was born at the top of Leith Walk.

There is nothing like a passing shadow or footsteps following you on an empty street to make the hairs rise on the back of your neck. Let's face it, everybody loves a spine chiller thriller — so long as there is a dysfunctional hero or heroine to sort it out and ensure that, in the end, justice is done.

This must be why so many Murder Mystery weekends have sprung up in hotels across the country, from Dunoon to Crianlarich and Drymen. There are now Stuart MacBride Murder Tours of Aberdeen, starting outside Grampian Police Headquarters with a dram of Jura single malt before setting off, and in Glasgow the Taggart Fan Club posts an online locations guide that takes in St Andrew's Suspension Bridge, Glasgow Green, the People's Palace, Central Station, Buchanan Street, and the Barrowland. Rebus Walking Tours in Edinburgh include the Flodden Wall, Salisbury Crags, and the Oxford Bar in Rose Street, of course, where, if you are lucky, you might even encounter the author himself.

Real locations bring murder most horrid, fictional or not, to life — if that is what you want. Dastardly deeds create an entirely new dimension to popular tourism and it therefore comes as no surprise to learn that Death of a Grey Man, the latest offering in the genre, comes from Robert Leslie — a former Edinburgh tour guide.

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