What an absolutely brilliant idea! And, still better, it's a brilliant idea superbly executed: in some cases literally. James Crawford, the Publisher at Historic Environment Scotland, sets the scene in his introduction: "I found myself talking to the co-founder of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival, Lin Anderson, and its director Bob McDevitt, in the Author's Yurt at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2016. 'What if?' I asked them. 'What if we asked twelve of Scotland's top crime writers to write short stories inspired by twelve of our most iconic buildings? What would they think? What would they come up with? What could possibly go wrong?' This book is the answer."
On the "what could possibly go wrong" front, the publishers probably didn't envisage Bothwell Castle being very nearly destroyed in "The Last Siege of Bothwell Castle" by Chris Brookmyre. But then that's very much the point of this wonderful collection. Set a dozen of Scotland's most devious minds to work on stories set around a dozen of its most distinctive locations, and the results are inevitably going to be unpredictable and enjoyable.
The contributing authors are Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Denise Mina, Gordon Brown, Ann Cleeves, Louise Welsh, Lin Anderson, Doug Johnstone, Craig Robertson, E S Thomson, Sara Sheridan and Stuart MacBride, which gives a sense of the firepower deployed on this project. Their locations vary widely, in terms both of geography and degree of fame. Doug Johnstone's "Painting the Forth Bridge" is a poignant tale of family breakdown and its consequences, with a truly iconic construction at its heart. Stuart MacBride's "Stevenson's Candle" is a creepy and macabre mystery set in the historic Kinnaird Head Lighthouse; and Denise Mina's "Nemo Me Impune Lacessit" takes Edinburgh Castle as the setting for tragedy. Rather fewer readers of the book will have heard of The Hermit's Castle, a peculiar concrete construction on the coast of Sutherland at Achmelvich, and the setting for a gripping story of revenge penned by Val McDermid.
Other locations in the book include Maeshowe in Orkney, Kinneil House in Bo'ness, Crookston Castle in Glasgow, and Mousa Broch in Shetland. The book concludes with a map showing the locations of each of the buildings used, a page of background about each of them, and short biographical notes about each of the authors.
So: what could possibly go wrong? Beyond the inevitable death and mayhem, nothing at all. This is an outstanding book that will broaden the horizons of its readers as it entertains them, in terms both of what Scotland has to offer visitors, and the breadth of its crime-writing talent.