There’s nothing better than an immersive thriller that sucks you into the story, bringing you alongside the protagonist on an exhilarating investigation. A good book makes you feel as though you’ve been pulled into the setting — and when the setting is a place like Scotland, full of atmosphere and a storied history, it’s always a “cracking good time.”
ThrillerFest may have been in the United States this weekend, but if you’re looking to hop across the pond for your thriller fix, we’ve got you covered. These six novels bring the nation to life, with all its mystery and weighted political history. From a former member of the UK’s secret service to a specialist on fraudulent elections, these stories of suspense will make you feel as though you’ve stepped onto Scottish soil and joined the investigation.
Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin
John Rebus was once a member of the UK’s Special Air Service, famous for their covert operations and highly skilled personnel. During his time in the SAS, Rebus was put through training to see if he could infiltrate an Irish terrorist organization. The training backfired; instead of preparing Rebus for an operation, it triggered a nervous breakdown.
Now an Edinburgh police officer, all Rebus wants to do is put the events of his service behind him. But when a series of disturbing letters arrive in the mail, Rebus gets nervous — because the letters seem to have a connection with a string of grisly murders happening across the city. Even worse, the letters suggest that Rebus may have a personal connection to the killer … a connection forged during his time in the SAS.
Gritty and grim, the first in the Inspector Rebus series is only the start of this hero’s captivating misadventures.
The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home
Cal McGill isn’t technically a detective. He’s not even a beat cop. An oceanographer and environmentalist, his investigative expertise is relegated firmly to the water. Ever since he lost a family member to a tragic drowning, McGill’s learned to use his knowledge of currents, winds and other factors to help solve missing persons cases. And as an environmentalist concerned about global warming, McGill also isn’t afraid to commit a bit of light ecoterrorism on the side.
It’s these small crimes he leaves for Scottish politicians that gets the attention of the police force. But one officer sees McGill as an unlikely ally in a grisly series of crimes that have seemingly no connection. As more body parts wash onto Scottish shores, McGill’s enters a deal to be brought on to the investigation.
But the crime extends far beyond the scope that McGill and his partner suspected, and getting involved may risk their ideals, their careers — and their lives.
Bastard Verdict by James McCrone
Former FBI agent Imogen Trager is no stranger to monitoring elections — in fact, it’s her specialty. But after bringing justice down upon electoral conspirators in the US, she became inextricably tied with the “Faithless Elector” investigation and was exiled by the bureau. Now relocated in Glasgow, Trager’s done her best to keep her head down. Still, when a Scottish government official reaches out to her in dire need of her skills, Trager can’t say no.
It turns out that the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum results may not have been accurate. And with the second referendum fast approaching, a team of Scottish officials has reason to believe this coming election may prove just as corrupt. It’s a case with ripple effects that will span a multinational scale, but it risks everything Trager’s fought for, as well as her own personal safety. Because it soon becomes apparent that those who know too much will be silenced, and Trager’s moving to the top of that list.
Check out our full review of Bastard Verdict here.
Deadly Secrecy by Andrew Scott
Tensions are ratcheting between England and Scotland — not just over referendums, but over the issue of nuclear policy. And when a Scottish anti-nuclear activist dies in a freak accident, journalist Willie Morton knows that someone needs to get to the bottom of this, and that he’s the man for the job. The deeper he goes in his investigation, the more Morton is convinced that Angus McBain’s death was anything but accidental. But the trouble with investigating a murder is that it’s only a matter of time before the murderer comes after you.
Pursued across the nation from Holyrood to Loch Ness, Morton races to save his life and bring justice for Angus McBain. But even as he’s shot at and even driven onto the European mainland, Morton stays resolute in his quest for truth. This exhilarating novel, loosely based on the real-life Willie McRae killing, adds a refreshing new narrative to the world of thriller fiction.
The Zima Confession by Iain M. Rodgers
It’s 1977 in Glasgow, and Richard Slater is an idealist college student. He and his classmates love to philosophize and argue about politics. This group ultimately embraces Marxist ideas, particularly the socialist beliefs of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. And in their fervor, they hatch the Zima plan to bring such a governmental system to the United Kingdom.
Now in 2013 London, Slater works at a financial software company. He hasn’t forgotten his former classmates’ plan to spark a revolution and sends out the signal that he’s ready. But when Slater’s colleague dies under suspicious circumstances, it’s clear that British Intelligence is watching — as well as the Kremlin itself. Slater soon comes to learn that the radical beliefs of his youth have dire consequences for himself and those around him. Attempting a revolution isn’t something to be swept under the rug, and the Zima plan will soon cost Slater dearly.
Read our full review of The Zima Confession here.
The Darker the Night by Martin Patience
This NPR Book of the Day tells a story of murder, collusion and a country’s hopes for autonomy. The referendum on Scottish independence is fast approaching and things are looking good for the nationalists — until civil servant John Millar is found shot in Glasgow. His murder shakes the nation and throws a curveball into the plans for the referendum, bringing the vote to a screeching halt.
Meanwhile, reporter Fulton Mackenzie is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. He soon learns that a suspicious video and phone number was on Millar’s person when he died. Following the trail of these clues, Mackenzie delves further and further into a case that threatens the future of Scotland and all that Mackenzie holds dear. Written by a BBC foreign correspondent, the political aspects of this debut bring a startling — and terrifying — realism to the story.