14 top crime novels set in Scotland

Crime novels set in Scotland by Scottish crime writers and those further afield

It’s not hard to see why so many authors choose to set their books in Scotland. From the remote islands to the gritty city streets bursting with rich culture, the atmosphere, landscape and people of Scotland have influenced some of the best crime novels around. And it’s not just Scottish crime writers who have found themselves inspired: authors from around the world are getting in on the action too.

This summer we’re off on a Dead Good road trip, travelling across the British Isles from the comfort of our armchair – so if you’re looking for a good book to help immerse yourself in bonnie Scotland then you need look no further. With these gripping crime and thriller reads you can pay a visit to Glasgow with Denise Mina, explore Aberdeen with Stuart MacBride and lose yourself in the Highlands with G R Halliday.

Here’s our pick of crime novels set in Scotland, by both Scottish crime writers and those from further afield.

Scottish crime writersFrom the Shadows by G R Halliday

Sixteen-year-old Robert arrives home late. Without a word to his dad, he goes up to his bedroom. Robert is never seen alive again. A body is soon found on the coast of the Scottish Highlands. DI Monica Kennedy stands by the victim in this starkly beautiful and remote landscape. Instinct tells her the case won’t begin and end with this one death.

Meanwhile, Inverness-based social worker Michael Bach is worried about one of his clients whose last correspondence was a single ambiguous text message; Nichol Morgan has been missing for seven days. As Monica is faced with catching a murderer who has been meticulously watching and waiting, Michael keeps searching for Nichol, desperate to find him before the killer claims another victim.

Find out more about the locations in the book here.

Scottish crime writersNatural Causes by James Oswald

Edinburgh is horrified by a series of bloody killings. Deaths for which there appears to be neither rhyme nor reason, and which leave the city’s police stumped.

DI Tony McLean is focused on the investigation, but his attention is drawn by a chilling cold case – a young girl ritualistically murdered, her remains hidden for sixty years. It seems impossible that there could be any connection between the cases, but McLean starts to wonder. Because if it’s true, they might be facing an evil beyond anything they ever imagined…

Find out more about the locations in the Inspector McLean series here.

Scottish crime writersGarnethill by Denise Mina

When psychiatric patient Maureen O’Donnell finds her boyfriend dead in her living room, Glasgow police view her as both a suspect and an unstable witness – and even her mother is convinced of her involvement.

Feeling betrayed by friends and family, Maureen begins to doubt her own version of events. Panic-stricken, she sets out in pursuit of the truth and soon picks up a horrifying trail of deception and suppressed scandal. Then a second body is discovered. Maureen realises that unless she gets to the killer first, her life is in danger…

Read a chapter from the book here.

Scottish crime writersKnots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

In the very first John Rebus novel, two young girls have been abducted and brutally murdered in Edinburgh. And now a third is missing, presumably gone to the same sad end. Detective Sergeant 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.

Scottish crime writersThe Distant Echo by Val McDermid

On a freezing Fife morning four drunken students stumble upon the body of a woman in the snow. Rosie has been raped, stabbed and left to die in an ancient Pictish cemetery. And the only suspects are the four young men now stained with her blood.

Twenty-five years later the police mount a ‘cold case’ review of Rosie’s unsolved murder and the four are still suspects. But when two of them die in suspicious circumstances, it seems that someone is pursuing their own brand of justice. For the remaining two there is only one way to avoid becoming the next victim – find out who really killed Rosie all those years ago.

Scottish crime writersThe Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home

Cal McGill is an Edinburgh-based oceanographer, environmentalist and one-of-a-kind investigator. Using his knowledge of the waves – ocean currents, prevailing winds, shipping records – McGill can track where objects have come from, or where they’ve gone. It’s a unique skill that can help solve all sorts of mysteries. Such as when two severed feet wash up miles apart on two different islands off the coast of Scotland. Most strangely, forensic tests reveal that the feet belong to the same body.

As Cal McGill investigates, he unravels a web of corruption, exploitation and violence, which threatens many lives across the globe – very soon including his own.

Find out about Mark’s inspiration for the book here.

books set in ScotlandThe Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

When Rowan stumbles across the advert, it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family. What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in a cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is…

Read a chapter from the book here.

books set in ScotlandWritten in Bone by Simon Beckett

As a favour to a colleague, Dr David Hunter is on the remote Hebridean island of Runa to inspect a grisly discovery. He’s familiar with death in all its guises but is shocked by what he finds: a body, incinerated but for the feet and a single hand. It appears to be a textbook case of spontaneous human combustion. The local police are certain it’s an accidental death, but Hunter is not convinced. Examining the scorched remains, he finds evidence that this was no accident; this was murder.

And as the isolated community considers the enormity of Hunter’s findings, a catastrophic storm hits the island. The power goes down, communication with the outside world ceases… and the killing begins in earnest.

Scottish crime writersWild Fire by Ann Cleeves

Wild Fire is the final book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series – the inspiration behind the BBC One drama starring Douglas Henshall.

Drawn in by the reputation of the welcoming, wild and remote Shetland islands, a new English family move to the area, eager to give their autistic son a better life. But when a young nanny’s body is found hanging in the barn of their home, rumours of her affair with the husband begin to spread like wild fire. With suspicion raining down on the family, DI Jimmy Perez is called in to investigate. For him it will mean returning to the islands of his on-off lover and boss Willow Reeves, who will run the case.

Perez is already facing the most disturbing investigation of his career, when Willow drops a bombshell that will change his life forever. Is he ready for what is to come?

Scottish crime writersLaidlaw by William McIlvanney

Meet Jack Laidlaw, the original damaged detective.

When a young woman is found brutally murdered in Kelvingrove Park, only Laidlaw stands a chance of finding her murderer from among the hard men, gangland villains and self-made moneymen who lurk in the city’s shadows.

books set in ScotlandThe Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

Edinburgh, 1888. A violinist is murdered in his home. The dead virtuoso’s maid swears she heard three musicians playing in the night. But with only one body in the locked practice room – and no way in or out – the case makes no sense. Fearing a national panic over another Ripper, Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Frey to investigate under the cover of a fake department specializing in the occult. However, Frey’s new boss, Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray, actually believes in such supernatural nonsense.

McGray’s tragic past has driven him to superstition, but even Frey must admit that this case seems beyond reason. And once someone loses all reason, who knows what they will lose next…

Take a look at all the books in the series here.

books set in ScotlandSleep by C L Taylor

All Anna wants is to be able to sleep. But crushing insomnia, terrifying night terrors and memories of that terrible night are making it impossible. If only she didn’t feel so guilty.

To escape her past, Anna takes a job at a hotel on the remote Scottish island of Rum, but when seven guests join her, what started as a retreat from the world turns into a deadly nightmare. Each of the guests has a secret, but one of them is lying – about who they are and why they’re on the island. There’s a murderer staying in the Bay View hotel. And they’ve set their sights on Anna.

books set in ScotlandThe Comforts of Home by Susan Hill

DC Simon Serrailler’s devastating last case was nearly the death of him. Recovering on a remote Scottish island, his peace doesn’t last long. When a woman’s body is washed ashore, Simon is pulled in to a murder inquiry by the overstretched local police who are desperate for help.

But it’s when Simon returns to Lafferton and a cold case is reopened that things start to get dangerous.

Read a chapter from the book here.

Scottish crime writersCold Granite by Stuart MacBride

It’s DS Logan McRae’s first day back on the job after a year off on the sick, and it couldn’t get much worse. Three-year-old David Reid’s body is discovered in a ditch: strangled, mutilated and a long time dead. And he’s only the first. There’s a serial killer stalking Aberdeen and the local media are baying for blood.

Soon the dead are piling up in the morgue almost as fast as the snow on the streets, and Logan knows time is running out. More children are going missing; more are going to die. And if Logan isn’t careful, he could end up joining them.

What are your favourite crime novels set in Scotland? Have we missed any of your favourite Scottish crime writers? Let us know in the comments below!

Travel further afield with our recommended reads set in Wales, Ireland and England.

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33 Comments

  1. Pam Griffin says

    What about Denzil Meyrick? His DCI Daley series is set on the west cost of Scotland, and the latest one, a Breath on Dying Embers has been longlisted for the McIllvaney prize.

    • Maria Murray says

      Yep, I have all Denzil’s books. Different style of writing but he tells a very good tale. Recommended.

  2. Sue Harrison says

    Denzil Meyrick’s DCI Dailey novels are fantastic.Douglas Skelton,Owen Mullen,Craig Robertson,Neil Broadfoot all deserve exploration as well

  3. Sie Gibbon says

    Peter May. his books set on the Isle of Lewis inspired me and we spent 2 weeks on holiday there!

  4. Nicola S says

    Hania Allen’s The Polish Detective should be up there too!! Her follow up Clearing The Dark is also based in Dundee. Both well worth a read.

  5. Grace Gray says

    What about Lin Anderson? The forensic scientist, Rhona MacLeod is based in Glasgow and the novels are imaginative and well written. Give them a try.

  6. Nicola Nagler says

    Surprised not to see Margaret Kirk chosen for Inverness. So many of the reviews for her books make a great point about how she conveys such a sense of place that Inverness seems like another character in the book.

  7. Angela Keates says

    Can’t believe you have missed the DCI Daley series set in the Scottish Isles! Written by Denzil Meyrick the series is full of colourful characters, beautiful locations and intriguing mysteries!

  8. Karen Legrand says

    Given that the first picture is of Inverness, I can’t recommend too highly Margaret Kirk’s ( from Inverness) two crime novels, Shadow Man and What Lies Buried, set in the Inverness area. Great characters, humour and plots.

  9. Anonymous says

    Peter May’s Hebridean Trilogy is strong for me.
    Love Logan McCrea books though

  10. Jim Hobbs says

    What happened to Quentin Jardine. Prolific writer stories based Edinburgh and Gullane.

  11. Patsy Rose says

    This summer while staying in Scotland I fell in love with Hamish Macbeth in the stories by M. C. Beaton, and in 3 weeks managed to read the first 10 books and half of another.

  12. Malcolm says

    You miss the thirty nine steps a classic which is partially set in Scotland and recreated and indeed expanded by the film
    Would also suggest the Lewis trilogy by Peter May to reflect Western Isles warts and al
    One final suggestion -Denzil meyrick his books are set in Campbeltown but also bring out the West Scottish police culture

  13. Karen says

    Lovely to find some Scottish authors that I haven’t read before among the familiar ones

  14. L mitchell says

    I recommend Owen Mullen – In harms Way, Before the Devil
    Knows your Dead and more. Brilliant Scottish Crime Writer

  15. Maureen Jobbins says

    Helen Fields – the DCI Callanach series based in and around Edinburgh

  16. Linda Timlin says

    Alex Gray, Peter May and Quintin Jardine are all fabulous Scottish crime writers, with stories being set in Scotland.

  17. Pat Buchanan says

    Alex Gray and Lin Anderson should be on the list . Both have excellent series. Also Peter May and Quintin Jardine.