Five great books set in Edinburgh

22nd May 2018

Edinburgh is the latest destination in our ‘Great books set in…’ series.

Courtesy: Visit Scotland

Here are five books – novels, memoirs and travelogues – that will transport you to this great Scottish city, whether you’re travelling to Edinburgh physically, or from your armchair.

Edinburgh isn’t so much a city, more a way of life… I doubt I’ll ever tire of exploring Edinburgh, on foot or in print.” – Ian Rankin

1. A Work of Beauty by Alexander McCall Smith

“I love this city, and always shall. I write about it. I dream about it. I walk its streets and see something new each day – traces of faded lettering on the stone, still legible, but just; some facade that I have walked past before and not noticed; an unregarded doorway with the names, in brass, of those who lived there sixty years ago, the bell-pulls sometimes still in place, as if one might summon long-departed residents from their slumbers.”

Edinburgh is a city of stories – a place that has witnessed everything from great historical upheavals, to the individual lives of a remarkable cast of characters. Every spire, cobblestone, bridge, close and avenue has a tale to tell. In this sumptuous new book, Alexander McCall Smith curates his own, distinctive story of Edinburgh – combining his affectionate, incisive wit with a wealth of stunning imagery drawn from Scotland’s national collection of architecture and archaeology.

Through a series of photographs, maps, drawings and paintings – many never before published – he takes the reader on a unique tour. Just like the city’s architecture, the book can move in an instant from sweeping views to secret, hidden vignettes. This is a story of famous landmarks and lost buildings; the people who made them; the people who lived in them.

‘A Work of Beauty’ is an intimate portrait of a city by one of Scotland’s greatest storytellers.

2. Exit Music by Ian Rankin

It’s late autumn in Edinburgh and late autumn in the career of Detective Inspector Rebus. As he tries to tie up some loose ends before retirement, a murder case intrudes.

A dissident Russian poet has been found dead in what looks like a mugging gone wrong. By apparent coincidence, a delegation of Russian businessmen is in town – and everyone is determined that the case should be closed quickly and clinically. But the further they dig, the more Rebus and DS Siobhan Clarke become convinced that they are dealing with something more than a random attack – especially after a particularly nasty second killing.

Meanwhile, a brutal and premeditated assault on a local gangster sees Rebus in the frame. Has the Inspector taken a step too far in tying up those loose ends? Only a few days shy of the end to his long, inglorious career, will Rebus even make it that far?

3. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

It is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident – an incident which changes the lives of everyone involved. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander – until he becomes a suspect.

With Case Histories, Kate Atkinson showed how brilliantly she could explore the crime genre and make it her own. In One Good Turn she takes her masterful plotting one step further. Like a set of Russian dolls each thread of the narrative reveals itself to be related to the last. Her Dickensian cast of characters are all looking for love or money and find it in surprising places. As ever with Atkinson what each one actually discovers is their true self.

4. The Road to Hell by Gillian Galbraith

When the body of a half-clothed woman is discovered in an Edinburgh park, a murder investigation is launched.

The victim has not been reported missing and there are few clues to her identity. Soon after, the naked corpse of a prominent clergyman is found, also in a park. DS Alice Rice wonders if the same killer is at work, and if so, what is the connection between the apparently motiveless attacks?

The Road to Hell, the fourth in the series, takes the policewoman to new personal depths and along a trail that leads to some of Edinburgh’s darkest and scariest corners.

5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

In 1930s Edinburgh, six ten-year-old girls, Sandy, Rose, Mary, Jenny, Monica, and Eunice are assigned Miss Jean Brodie, who describes herself as being “in my prime,” as their teacher.

Miss Brodie, determined that they shall receive an education in the original sense of the Latin verb educere, “to lead out,” gives her students lessons about her personal love life and travels, promoting art history, classical studies, and fascism. Under her mentorship, these six girls whom Brodie singles out as the elite group among her students—known as the “Brodie set”—begin to stand out from the rest of the school.

However, in one of the novel’s typical flash-forwards we learn that one of them will later betray Brodie, ruining her teaching career, but that she will never learn which one.

Romantic, heroic, comic and tragic, unconventional schoolmistress Jean Brodie has become an iconic figure in post-war fiction. Her glamour, unconventional ideas and manipulative charm hold dangerous sway over her girls at the Marcia Blaine Academy – ‘the crème de la crème’ – who become the Brodie ‘set’, introduced to a privileged world of adult games that they will never forget.

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

Which titles would you add to the list? Remember there are almost 50 to choose from in the Edinburgh listings on TripFiction…! Each will transport you to some excellent fiction, travelogues or memoirs set in this fascinating city. Or you may have your own favourites you would like to add. Please leave your thoughts in the Comments box below.

Other posts in our ‘Five great books set in…’ series include:

Five great books set in Naples

Five great books set in Dublin

Five great books set in Dubai

Five great books set in Portugal

Five great books set in San Francisco

And posts in our ‘Ten great books set in…’ series include:

Ten great books set in Paris

Ten great books set in New York

Ten great books set in London

Ten great books set in Rome

Ten great books set in Berlin

Ten great books set in Russia

Ten great books set in Spain

Ten great books set in Amsterdam

Ten great books set in Thailand

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