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Crime Scene Investigation

Three crime writers talk location
Torridon, image credit GR Halliday

IT’S NOT ONLY estate agents who are on the lookout for that perfect location – crime-writers are too! Location plays a huge part in a successful novel. An authentic setting will draw readers in, help create a gripping atmosphere and be a believable backdrop to the twists and turns of the author’s tale. Readers have to believe in the setting as much as in the plot and the characters. Credibility matters.

Surprisingly, though, settings don’t necessarily have to be dark and Gothic to create a menacing atmosphere. That impenetrable Victorian fog, or the flickering candlelight, or the howling of a gigantic hound out in the mire aren’t the only ways to create suspense. Just the opposite in fact, for in the hands of a skillful writer, even the most ordinary, everyday settings can become something very much more sinister. We all like to feel safe in our home territory, but what if that’s the very place where the threat lies? In fact, sometimes that’s the most effective way crime writers can unsettle us: take the familiar - the known - give it an unexpected twist and suddenly it becomes very menacing indeed!

Readers have to believe in the setting as much as in the plot and the characters

I decided to ask three crime writers, Gareth Halliday, Jackie McLean and Michael Mackenzie, about their chosen locations. What it is those particular places contribute to their stories. Their locations, I quickly discovered, spanned the length and breadth of the country, and couldn’t have been more different.

Let’s take Inverness, in the north of Scotland, and the focal point for G.R. Halliday’s debut novel From the Shadows. The story moves between the city of Inverness and surrounding areas of the Scottish Highlands, spreading west to the villages of Gairloch and Ullapool. Why did Gareth choose this area? “I’ve lived in the Highlands since 2006 when I came north from Edinburgh because I wanted to climb mountains and explore the amazing Highland wilderness.” Explore he did, but Gareth’s enjoyment of sweeping Highland landscapes soon led to much more. “At the time I had no idea I would end up writing a detective series set here, but the dramatic scenery and distinctive culture of the Highlands seemed to funnel my imagination in this direction. There are just so many stunning locations, from dramatic mountains like the sandstone peaks in Torridon that seem to rise almost vertically from the sea, to beautiful remote beaches like Oldshoremore in the far north west. So many secluded places with fascinating histories and atmospheres that lend themselves to dark storytelling. It almost felt like the characters and story of From the Shadows emerged from the landscape as much as being created by me.”

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Issue 59 of iScot Magazine is now available for download. The last issue before Brexit ! Jings, Crivvens, Help Ma Boab!