If you are reading this the day it is being posted, then know that R & I are, as your eyes scan these words, fulfilling a friendship-long dream of visiting Scotland together, and celebrating her birthday along the way as well! (Happy future birthday, R!!)
In preparation for the trip I made myself a reading list of books set in Edinburgh. Of course, I only managed to read a couple of them, but I do plan to go back and finish the others someday. Maybe you also have a Scottish-themed reading itch to scratch? If so, I submit these titles for your perusal.
My method for finding them was a subject search in my library catalog so this is by no means a be-all, end-all list of Edinburgh fiction. And it is not YA-specific.
BOOKS I DID READ:
The Gooseberry / Odd Girl Out by Joan Lingard
This is the only YA book on my list, and the only one that doesn’t have to do with romance or murder. Just a solid coming-of-age story. Poor old Gooseberry Ellie is true to herself even though she doesn’t really know what that means just yet, and her mom has to go and marry some boring old guy who sells insurance and lives in a bungalow, taking E. away from her street and her friends and her father figure, an old Czech pianist who is giving her lessons.
Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus #1) by Ian Rankin
I felt obligated to read at least one Ian Rankin book before I went to Edinburgh (again). This is the first in his series about a hard-drinking Detective Inspector working in that city. My Goodreads notes were thus: “I am left wondering what drug has a toffee apple smell. Spell it out for us squares, Rankin! Also, I want to note that I figured it out on p. 150 and Rebus did on p. 200. But I was struggling with much less emotional baggage than he.”
Instead of reading more of these, I opted to watch the first season of Rebus and it was enjoyable, but I think Prime Suspect may have spoiled most other UK crime shows for me. I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch more, though.
The Lamplighter by Anthony O’Neill
A serendipitous find for me – I had to weed it from my library’s fiction collection due space and circulation issues 😥 , but ended up reading it, :D.
It’s a delicate story combining historical fiction, detection, metaphysics, the devil, fear, secret societies, gruesome murder, and religious conspiracy. Something for everyone.Boswell In Search of a Wife, 1766-69 by James Boswell
If you’re into history and diaries and affable cads, do yourself a favor and visit the diaries of James Boswell. At least read this Smithsonian article about him (but, spoiler alert, not if you want to keep the romantic notions of a happy marriage brought on by this section of diaries intact).
Boswell is quite famous for chronicling his life (and Sam Johnston’s life) through diaries. And here Yale collects his diaries, letters and other correspondence to show his feverish attachments and pursuits of various ladies in an attempt to find a wife / soothe his libido. This is also the period where he’s establishing himself as a lawyer via the Douglas case and being obsessed with the Corsicans. Any time one reads of Boswell one hears of his need for strong father figures, as if to replace his fractious relationship to his own father, and this is borne out in watching him through his letters. He is devoted to General Paoli of Corsica. When he is in London to cure his venereal disease before marrying he repeatedly moves apartments to be closer to various powerful friends as if to soak up their approbation and aura of power.
He’s witty and as truthful as he can be in representing his whims. It’s enchanting to be put into the times and watch him ordering post-chaises to take him around town, worrying about the entailment of the estate of Auchinleck (which can now be rented out for a holiday, true story) and fretting about the hot and cold reactions of an heiress he’s courting while at the same time he is supporting a married mistress who has bore him a daughter, getting drunk and sleeping with whores (and getting infected with who knows what), and fielding letters from his lady-love in Amsterdam (an author herself!).
Boswell never loses hope for the power of true love, even as he realizes he is usually in the throes of fickle lust, and even as he sabotages his own intentions for a strong relationship by getting drunk and sleeping with other women. He has feverish periods of happiness and low periods of melancholy. Here are just a few examples from his own mouth:
28 APRIL 1766: “I write to you while the delirium is really existing. In short, Sir, the gardener’s daughter who was named for my mother, and has for some time been in the family as a chambermaid is so very pretty that I am entirely captivated by her. Besides my principle of never debauching an innocent girl, my regard for her father, a worthy man of uncommon abilities, retrains me from forming the least licentious thought against her. And, therefore, in plain words, I am mad enough to indulge imaginations of marrying her. …I rave about her. I was never so much in love as I am now. My fancy is quite inflamed. It riots in extravagance.”
17 MAY 1766. “…my love for the handsome chambermaid is already like a dream that is past.”
19 JANUARY 1768: “I was so happy with Jeany Kinnaird that I very philosophically reasoned that there was to me so much virtue mixed with licentious love that perhaps I might be privilege. For it made me humane, polite, generous. But then lawful love with a woman I really like would make me still better.”
“THURSDAY 15 JUNE . Mrs. Fullarton and her son, Snady Tait, Drs. Gregory and Austin, and Willy Wallace dined with us. I was not well, and in very bad spirits. At such times all the varnish of life is off, and I see it as it really is. Or why not may it be that there is a shade thrown over it which is merely ideal darkness? All my comfort was piety, my friends, and my lady.”
BOOKS I STILL WANT TO READ:
Goodreads sez: “Edinburgh: City of the Dead explores macabre events, paranormal occurrences, haunted locations, occult societies, witchcraft, and even spooky hoaxes to try to discover why Edinburgh is a city that appears to have more than its fair share of supernatural goings-on. Jan-Andrew Henderson brings each tale to life through realistic dramatic reconstructions. By focusing on the scariest incident in each and fleshing out the characters and dialogue, the author adds a terrifying extra dimension to some of the most gory and ghoulish stories imaginable.”
and: “The story of the Town Below the Ground is one of the most disturbing in the annals of Scottish history.” Do tell.
Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale
A woman is trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her husband finds her diary, misinterprets it, and files for divorce (UNHEARD OF). The diary is read in court! ! ! Possibly sort of based on a true story?? More info at Brain Pickings.
The Body Politic by Paul Johnston
According to the header on his site, Paul Johnston is a “crime writer AND poet” (emphasis mine) so really how could this series go wrong? This book is actually the first in a series featuring a guy (presumably detective) named Quint Dalrymple–again, that name is a really good sign for the book–set in 2020 in what is known as Enlightenment Edinburgh.
As Google Books explains: “The Council’s goal of a “perfect” city-where television, private cars, and popular music are banned, and where crime is virtually nonexistent-is shattered when a brutal serial killer is discovered among their ranks. Can the fearsome Ear, Nose and Throat Man be back to his grisly old tricks? The usually complacent Council is forced to turn to the man they demoted years ago-the irreverent, blues-haunted Quintilian Dalrymple-to catch the gruesome killer.”
The Anatomy Murders, Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh’s Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes by Lisa Rosner
The title about says it all, but here’s the description from the book’s webpage:
“On Halloween night 1828, in the West Port district of Edinburgh, Scotland, a woman sometimes known as Madgy Docherty was last seen in the company of William Burke and William Hare. Days later, police discovered her remains in the surgery of the prominent anatomist Dr. Robert Knox. Docherty was the final victim of the most atrocious murder spree of the century, outflanking even Jack the Ripper’s. Together with their accomplices, Burke and Hare would be accused of killing sixteen people over the course of twelve months in order to sell the corpses as “subjects” for dissection. The ensuing criminal investigation into the “Anatomy Murders” raised troubling questions about the common practices by which medical men obtained cadavers, the lives of the poor in Edinburgh’s back alleys, and the ability of the police to protect the public from cold-blooded murder.”
There are also 2 movies about Burke and Hare. This is the one I plan to watch, because Simon Pegg:
One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie #2) by Kate Atkinson
“Two years after the events of Case Histories left him a retired millionaire, Jackson Brodie has followed Julia, his occasional girlfriend and former client, to Edinburgh for its famous summer arts festival. But when he witnesses a man being brutally attacked in a traffic jam – the apparent victim of an extreme case of road rage – a chain of events is set in motion that will pull the wife of an unscrupulous real estate tycoon, a timid but successful crime novelist, and a hardheaded female police detective into Jackson’s orbit.” – Goodreads
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
This could be a (great) time travel romance…
“In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write. But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth.” – Author Description
The Trouble with Magic (Magic #3) by Patricia Rice
There is no way I could improve on this hook:
“Felicity Malcolm Childe’s gift for experiencing visions through touch has always felt more like a curse than a blessing, so she covers herself from head to toe. Only the maddeningly handsome Ewen Ives provokes tingles of pleasure rather than pain, but he is already betrothed. Her last hope is to go to Scotland to find the ancient book of spells that could free her from the burden of this gift.”
Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple
SF Reviews dot net says it’s a “short and surprisingly grisly urban fantasy” about a guy who comes to Edinburgh to live with his Grandma, busk, and escape his life of drugs in Minneapolis. When the Fringe Festival starts he realizes he can see the terrifying fey folk.
Count me in.