THE term "tartan noir" might have started as a joke coined by arguably its most high profile practitioner Ian Rankin, but there is no escaping the success of a brand that has seen a host of writers from the Islands to the Borders follow the trail set by Rankin and fellow Fifer Val McDermid.
Definitions are a bit trickier, however. How "noir" or indeed tartan is Scottish crime writing?
It is a question that German born Wanner attempts to answer in this overview that makes use of key authors and key texts to examine the state and quality of Scottish crime fiction, at the same time providing the reader with a ticklist of books to devour.
Wanner finds the roots of Tartan Noir go deeper than Rankin or his acknowledged inspiration the late William McIlvanney’s Glasgow set Laidlaw series – as a young author, Rankin told McIlvanney of his intention to create an "Edinburgh Laidlaw" – with Scottish existentialist Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam providing an early example of the darker strain of Scottish crime long before anyone would coin the TN label.
It is a sub-genre where outsiders can find some sort of home, whether they be bruised and cynical detectives or amoral sociopaths on the other side of the law.
Like their Nordic cousins, tartan noir’s practitioners are also mindful of contemporary politics. Crimes do not take place in a social vacuum simply to provide a puzzle, but Wanner’s accessible introduction happily encompasses a wide range of Scottish writers, including ones where entertainment is more important than politics, and although this is at heart a celebration of the form, he takes an honest view of the writers and books than come under his microscope.
Although a not entirely comprehensive survey of Scottish crime fiction – Scotland’s booming historical crime fiction scene is largely overlooked in favour of authors dealing with contemporary settings – it immediately claims its place as the standard text on Scottish crime writing and sets the bar high for anyone who dares to follow.