This collection of classic crime short stories with Scottish links is full of variety, and perfect to dip into for some atmospheric tales…
Book: The Edinburgh Mystery and Other Tales of Scottish Crime, edited by Martin Edwards
Publication date: 10th May 2022
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by British Library Publishing. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: violence, injury, death (including murder by various methods); discussion of suicide.
From the dramatic Highlands to bustling cities and remote islands in wild seas, the unique landscapes and locales of Scotland have enthralled and shaped generations of mystery writers. This new collection presents seventeen classic stories, spanning a period from the 1880s to the 1970s, by a host of Scottish authors alongside writers from south of the border inspired by the history and majesty of the storied country.
Featuring vintage tales by Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Baroness Orczy together with mid-twentieth-century mini-masterpieces by Margot Bennett, Michael Innes and Cyril Hare, this anthology also includes a rare Josephine Tey short story, reprinted for the first time since 1930.
With any anthology of this sort, with such a wide a remit in terms of date and style, there will always be some stories you end up liking more than others. For me, crime short stories don’t always work as well as longer books – I enjoy seeing how many intricate layers of clues can be stacked up and how characters unravel under pressure, both of which are hard to do in a small wordcount. But several of these stories surprised me in being wonderfully twisty, memorable cases!
I really loved the resolution of ‘A Medical Crime’ by J Storer Clouston, which has a rather cheeky PI as its lead, and a good deal of Holmesian “a-ha!” in the way the story unfolds – it was great fun. I also really enjoyed the slightly sinister domesticity of Margot Bennett’s ‘The Case of the Frugal Cake’, while ‘The Body of Sir Henry’ by Augustus Muir was a delightfully gruesome story that had a campfire tale feel rather than a formal detective plot. ‘The White Line’ by John Ferguson was another fun one, set onboard a transatlantic ship and dealing with a flirtatious American heiress, a missing necklace, and a smart and resourceful investigator.
The stories that didn’t work so well for me were the ones that tended to the maudlin or gothic, which is just a matter of taste rather than an issue with the quality; all the stories feel very much like they belong here. The opening story, ‘Markheim’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, had a very interesting concept but not enough actual investigation for me, while I found ‘The Running of the Deer’ by PM Hubbard to be more atmosphere than mystery. Some I enjoyed overall, but found a little overly long, like ‘Footsteps’ by Anthony Wynne and ‘The Honour of Israel Gow’ by GK Chesteron. I don’t think there’s a single story I wholly disliked!
The jewel of this collection for me was probably the shortest story of all, ‘The Field Bazaar’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which is a funny little Sherlock Holmes snippet that feels more like fanfiction than a true mystery. A piece written for a student fundraising effort, it’s just a short conversation in which Holmes surprises Watson once again by seemingly reading his mind – something that’s always been my favourite part of their stories. There’s not much to it other than a demonstration of Holmes’s deductive powers, but as a Holmes fan who’d never read it before, it was a delightful little find for me among some of the darker stories here.
This is a fantastic collection, and would actually be a really good place to start if you were new to the Crime Classics series as it really showcases the range of stories. There’s something for everyone here, from funny to sad, from intricate puzzles to amusing anecdotes. Five out of five cats!