"Edinburgh Murders and Misdemeanours" by David Brandon and Alan Brooke is an enjoyable romp through the darker side of Edinburgh's past. Edinburgh is built on a series of hills and has often been called a city in three dimensions. In fact there is a fourth: Edinburgh is a city with a complex and often turbulent history, and visitors and residents alike come face to face with facets of this history wherever they turn within the heart of the city.
Edinburgh's story has always had a dark edge, and this can seem very near the surface as you wander around the closes of the old town around the Royal Mile and Cowgate. The authors of this book have done an excellent job in pulling together accounts of many of the more gruesome and grisly episodes in the city's history, bringing this dark edge very much to life. An early chapter, and another later in the book, deal with some of the many murders committed within the city. Other chapters deal in more detail with particularly infamous individuals or events. Deacon Brodie rightly has a chapter to himself, while Burke and Hare are also well covered. The assassination of Mary Queen of Scots' husband, Lord Darnley is also featured. Other stories are less well known, such as those of Weir the Warlock or Margaret Dickson. Meanwhile, chapters also look at Edinburgh ghosts; crime and (grisly) punishment in the city; fires and other disasters; and more.
The result is a book which adds colour and depth to any visit to Edinburgh. On the downside, anyone who knows the the city's story well is likely to find themselves less satisfied with the opening introduction to the history of Edinburgh, which has a number of minor errors that impede enjoyment. Here we read that "haar" is a chilling, intensely penetrating wind (it is fog or sea mist); that the last visible remnants of the city's walls are to be found near the Grassmarket (there are more in several places, especially Greyfriars Kirkyard and alongside the Pleasance); and that the Romans decided not to try to "tame the Highland Scots" north of the Forth Clyde line (they made serious attempts to do so in AD 83 and AD 208).