This year, following last year’s Literary Houses thread, I’m off on a Tour of Scotland in Twelve Crime Writers. I wish I were! Though I daresay there’ll be trips to Edinburgh and St. Andrews, and there’s an Orkney excursion booked, but some of the destinations will only be made on paper, not in the flesh (or in the Scotrail carriage).
I’m going to start, though unintentionally, at the top, with Shetland, and Marsali Taylor.
Perhaps there should be a warning on these books, the Cass Lynch or Shetland Sailing series (it’s the same thing), for if you’re inclined to any mal de mer you may suffer as you read. I can’t look at a boat without feeling slightly iffy, but it’s worth fighting it for the plot, and indeed for the romance which is gently done. Cass Lynch is deliberately hard to get on with at first: she is prickly, know-it-all without being self-confident, deeply insecure. But in the first person narrative she definitely grows on the reader, as do the self-sufficient folk of Brae, where the novels are mostly based. They are not lush with description but a light touch sets the scenes well, and the people stand out as real characters that develop over what I at first thought was a trilogy. I’m delighted now to be reading the fourth book and there is already a fifth book: Cass has matured and come to terms with her odd background, though she is still trying to choose between love and sea (I know which I would pick, but I can still feel her agonies).
I’d love to establish a kind of universal indicator paper for crime novels, a pH scale that shows noir at one end and cosy at the other (I hasten to add that this is purely subjective, for one person’s cosy is often another person’s traditional, or 3.5 on the Conyngham Scale). If 1 is noir and 7 is cosy, this series is around the 5 mark: not much blood, sex or swearing and there is a cat, but the people feel very real.
Now, some places will also have an also-ran (some places have several), and in Shetland’s case that’s Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series, main character the dreamy, sensitive Jimmy Perez. I love these books, and I also enjoy the BBC series, though heaven knows whether or not the scriptwriter had ever read the books beyond picking out the names from the text. Dougie Henshall is lovely but he doesn't look remotely like Jimmy Perez, and the overarching plot is completely inside out. The local gen is that Marsali’s books have a much more authentic Shetland feel to them: I’m not a Shetlander, so I can’t commit myself, so I’d strongly recommend reading all the series by both authors – can’t say fairer than that!