Highland Noir! Dhubh Gaidhealtachd, the Black Highlands

Crime exists away from Scotland’s gritty cities in the hills, glens and communities of highlands and islands. Murder in a small community has a devastating ripple effect, even more so when the killer lives therein. Add the Glasgow crime lord or drug baron looking for a getaway from the hot cauldron of crime, a safer place for his family, a place to salt his money, or the murderer looking for a new life on the hide with the urge to kill again and it gets more interesting.

Crime writers who live in the highlands are few and far between. There’s myself, Tom O Keenan living in the idyllic west coast village of Morar, next to the Local Hero beach, where my third novel The Son to be published in February of this year is set and Margaret Kirk who writes ‘Highland Noir’ set in and around her home town of Inverness, her debut novel, Shadow Man (2017) in the DI Lukas Mahler series and What Lies Buried (2019).

But what about writers you would associate with Tartan Noir, e.g. Peter May who keeps returning to the north of Scotland, after a string of books, e.g. The Black House (2011), The Lewis Man (2011), The Chess Man (2012) and Coffin Road (2016). Then, Anne Cleeves’ Shetland and Raven Black (2006) and eight more novels, most recently Wild Fire (2018). And of course, Ian Rankin who has also ventured north for Back and Blue (1997, to Shetland and out to the oil rigs of the North Sea. The Christopher Brookmyre’s Dead Girl Walking (2015) protagonist searches for a missing rock singer in the Highlands and Islands and Louise Welsh’s Naming the Bones (2010) is set largely in an archaeological dig on the island of Lismore in the Inner Hebrides, and Alex Gray’s Keep the Midnight Out (2015) is set on the island of Mull. However, Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project by (2015) for me takes some beating, which relates to a brutal triple murder in 1869 amid a Highlands crofting community.

Washed up bodies on silver sands, killers looking for a place to hide, local crimes of passion, dismembered bodies found in fishing nets, local community protects child killer, the possibilities may not be endless but every bit as dark!


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tom o. keenan