Bon Accord: A Review Of Alan Taylor’s Appointment In Arezzo: A Friendship With Muriel Spark…

As mentioned in SWH!’s recent review of Olga Wojtas’ novel Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovarthis year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the writer Muriel Spark, and as well as all the events which are happening under the banner of #MurielSpark100, Polygon Books are republishing all 22 of her novels which, if you only know The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, (or nothing at all), offers you the chance to more fully acquaint yourself with the work of arguably the greatest Scottish writer of the 20th century.

However, not much is known about the writer herself. To help rectify this Polygon have also published journalist, and founding editor of The Scottish Review of Books, Alan Taylor’s Appointment In Arezzo: A Friendship With Muriel Spark, an account of his relationship with Spark in her later life. A notoriously private woman, the book is a fascinating insight into how she viewed the world, and how the world in turn viewed her.

Taylor makes it clear that what many thought reclusive behaviour was actually a consequence of not really giving a damn what others thought of her. A truly international citizen, while retaining a love for Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, Spark had found peace in terms of place and people in Italy by the time Taylor got to know her. She had also had enough of the rumors, half-truths and downright lies which had been written and spoken about her and her relationships, and as such rarely engaged with the press, or the public. This alone makes Appointment In Arezzo an important publication.

That’s not to say that Spark was bitter. Taylor paints a picture of a happy home-life in Arezzo, Tuscany which she shared with her friend and confidant, Penelope Jardine. For anyone who is familiar with her writing, the Muriel Spark who is depicted on these pages makes perfect sense as she is full of life, humour, wit and a fierce intelligence, all of which are evident in her work.

But this is no hagiography. Taylor does not avoid controversy or the more difficult times in Sparks’ life, such as her failed marriage and the complicated relationship she had with her son. But while he is honest enough to address these issues you are never in any doubt that he is always on her side. A fan as well as a confidante, Taylor gets the balance between friend and journalist right, giving the reader something new and revealing while never betraying her trust or memory.

As well as being a personal recollection of Muriel Spark, Appointment In Arezzo also has plenty to say about the writer’s influences and attitude towards her work. There is plenty here for students of literature who want to know more about what drove Spark to write, and why. It also works as an excellent companion to the The International Style Of Muriel Spark exhibition currently on at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh (running till 13th May). Together they give a more complete picture of Muriel Spark than had previously been the case.

There will be those who would maintain that all you need to know about Muriel Spark can be found in her writing, and it is an argument which I think Spark herself may have favoured. But, as we celebrate the centenary of her birth, it is an important and timely reminder that her’s was a writer’s life, (she was still having poetry and fiction published in 2004, 47 years after her debut novel The Comforters) and, as Taylor attests, even when she wasn’t writing it was never far from her mind. We may not see her likes again, so a celebration of the life and work of Muriel Spark is not only in order, it is long overdue.

For the latest up-to-date news on all the events this year go to Muriel Spark 100.

Whisky Business: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Rachel McCormack…

chasing-the-dram-9781471157233_lg.jpgFor the latest podcast Ali met writer and broadcaster Rachel McCormack at Glasgow’s Iberica restaurant to talk about her recent book, the excellent Chasing The Dram: Finding The Spirit Of Whisky.

Over a glass of wine the two discuss Rachel’s book, their first memories of whisky, the perception of the drink at home and abroad, the mythology which has grown around it, the numerous ways it relates to Scottish history and culture, and a whole lot more. Put simply, she separates the truth from the fiction, and there is plenty of both when it comes to our original national drink.

The talk also turns to food, travel, friends, family, memory, and how they are intertwined. It’s a fascinating conversation on how drink and food play a vital role in our lives beyond simply being fuel, and why it should be seen as culturally significant for individuals as well as on a societal and national level.

A food expert, with a special love and knowledge of Spanish cuisine, Rachel (below) is a regularMcCormack-Author-Cropped- panelist on BBC Radio 4s The Kitchen Cabinet and has broadcast on From Our Own Corespondent, the Food Programme as well as appearing as an expert guest on BBC Radio 2 on both the Simon Mayo show and the Chris Evans show.

She has also written for, amongst others, the Evening StandardBBC Vegetarian Food Magazine, New Statesman, the Financial Times, RED magazine and the Guardian. Bringing all that experience and knowledge to the podcast, it was a real treat to talk with Rachel and even if you’re not a whisky drinker we’re sure you’ll still find something to interest you.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

…or on YouTube:

The next podcast should be with you shortly, so keep ’em peeled…

House Rules: A Review Of M.J. Nicholls’ The House Of Writers…


The last novel standing of 2017’s “must read/review” pile is M.J. Nicholls’ The House Of Writers, and it proves to be apt as it meant the year was bookended by two novels which shared a subject but differed in approach, (the first being David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device).

Both novels look at the importance of art in society, but where Keenan creates a mythical musical scene for 1980’s Airdrie, The House Of Writers is set in a dystopian future Scotland, one which is trying to recover from societal breakdown, and which is now one enormous Call Centre called ‘Scotcall’. There are some authors left and they reside in a designated communal tower block. All genres are here, separated on a floor-by-floor basis, but no matter what they write they are viewed with anything between suspicion and outright contempt.

It’s a novel which I’m almost scared to review in case I end up in it, and for that to make any sense you’ll have to read it – and even then… To call this a literary novel is an understatement of ludicrous proportions. It examines writing, writers, facts, fiction, and language, and contains a plethora of lists, footnotes, poetry, and experimentation in style and form.

It’s a book lover’s book, but one which is delightfully irreverent and facetious about almost every aspect of the literary world. If you believe that an ever diminishing readership is served by writers who increasingly find it difficult to get published, then House Of Writers is perhaps the logical conclusion as to where we are heading. If that sounds bleak, don’t let that put you off. Beneath the satire and pastiche hides a real love of literature. You might shake your head, but you’ll have a smile on your face.

It’s a novel which demands to be considered “meta” while simultaneously laughing at the very idea. The style is reminiscent of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Tobias Smollett’s The Expedition Of Humphry Clinker and Alasdair Gray’s Lanark. But as well as shades of Gray there are many other influences at work – too many to mention them all, and doubtless many I will have missed. The most relevant writers which sprung to mind were Andrew Crumey, Kevin McNeil and Iain (M) Banks.

It also features real-life writers who regular readers will recognise and who are named, and sometimes shamed, on the page. They include Jackie Kay, Adam Thirwell, Alan Warner, Jodi Picoult, Ian Rankin and Kei Miller who all appear alongside the “new” writers Nicholls introduces. Fact and fiction are closely interwoven throughout, and there’s an almost overwhelming amount of current cultural references. I’m pretty sure it’s the only novel to reference Robert Burns, Robert Mugabe, Vic Chesnutt, Jon Secada and Christina Rossetti.

The House Of Writers fizzes with ideas and energy and evinces a verve which carries you along with it. M.J. Nicholls proves he is a writer who has the sort of clinical eye and cynical wit required of successful satirists, and the result is one of the best, and funniest, commentaries on writing and writers I have read. If you’re after some sort of conclusion, it’s that while the latter will come and go, the former will endure – a happy ending if ever there was one.

The House Of Writers is published by Sagging Meniscus Press.

Lights, Camera, Action!: A Preview Of Glasgow Film Festival 2018…


If it’s February in Glasgow it can only be the Glasgow Film Festival, the perfect place for the more discerning film fans to take shelter from the storm while enjoying the best cinema has to offer, old and new.

Running from 21st February – 4th March, it’s a festival which over the years has firmly established itself as one of the very best around.

Scots Whay Hae! will be bringing  you interviews as well as the usual reviews, but before we do here is our annual preview.

2018’s programme has so much to recommend it we couldn’t possibly do anything other than make some considered suggestions here, but you can and should download the full brochure, settle back, and peruse at your leisure.

However, before you do here’s a taste of what’s on offer:

As ever,  there are various categories and strands to guide you towards whatever may be your cup of tea. This year they include Behind The ScenesRebel Heroes, Ireland: The Near Shore, CinemastersLocal HeroesSound & Vision, Modern Families, Stranger Than Fiction, Future Cult, PoineerWindow On The World, Crossing The Line, Pure Baltic and the always popular FrightFest.

Add to those some very special events at appropriate venues, a surprise film, school discos, a wide-selection of Gala events, the Glasgow Short Film Festival, the Glasgow Youth Film Festival, and many Special Guest appearances and interviews.

You can keep updated throughout the festival on Facebook and on Twitter @glasgowfilmfest #GFF18 and you can sign up the the GFT Enewsletter which is not only essential for the festival, but all year round.

To whet appetites even further, here are the trailers for 12 films to look forward to. They include some of the best Scottish features at this year’s festival, as well as a few other highlights.

To find out more and buy tickets, click on the films’ titles.


Nae Pasaran

You Were Never Really Here

The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie

Which Way Up


Descent Into The Maelstrom: The Radio Birdman Story

A Bout De Souffle (Breathless)

Never Steady, Never Still

The Lodgers


Brimstone & Glory

Something for everyone, I’m sure you’ll agree. See you in the cheap seats…


From Russia, With Love: A Review Of Olga Wotjas’ Miss Blaine’s Prefect And The Golden Samovar…


This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the writer Muriel Spark. You may have noticed – you MUST have noticed – but if you haven’t you soon will as all sorts of events and celebrations are either underway or planned. If ever a writer and their work deserved celebration it is estimable Muriel Spark.

We will be recording a Muriel Spark podcast in the coming weeks to pay our own tribute to arguably the greatest Scottish writer of the 20th century, but in the meantime you can find out all you need to know at to plan your year appropriately. So as not to miss out you can follow what’s going on by Twitter and Facebook, or by using the search #murielspark100.

As this is the case, you may think it incredibly canny that Olga Wojtas’ novel Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, published on Contraband, (the crime imprint of Saraband) arrives in such a timely fashion, but the Spark connections are more subtle than the timing may suggest. The story concentrates on the adventures of Shona Aurora McMonagle, a former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School For Girls, the fictional setting for Spark’s most famous novel The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie.

Despite its fame, Shona is decidedly no fan of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, or “That Book” as she refers to it. She believes it has given her alma mater a reputation for producing easily led young women rather than for the academic and sporting excellence which Shona considers its foremost attributes. She thinks Spark’s novel “a distortion, a travesty, a betrayal” and goes to great lengths to keep it out of the hands of the patrons at the Morningside Library where she works. This stance causes comes to haunt her when an oddly familiar face attempts to check That Book out.

What follows is a thrilling and fast-paced tale of time-travel, murder, mayhem, matchmaking and manners. Shona is given a mission, (with little choice other than to choose to accept it), which involves her travelling to 19th century Russia where she takes the name Shona Fergusovna. Using all the skills and education taught her at Marcia Blaine she is soon a hit at court, and her company and advice is sought by the great, the good, and the not so good as they are enchanted by dancing ‘Strip The Willow’, the tales of Sir Walter Scott, and the dubious pleasures of the mythological square sausage.

If you think all of this sounds confusing, you’d be wrong. Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar is written with such verve, lightness of touch and joie de vivre that you don’t concentrate or question the whys and hows of time travel or other fantastical aspects of Shona’s mission. This isn’t Isaac Asimov, it’s more A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Midnight In Paris, or even early ’90s TV show Quantum Leap, with readers being asked to accept the situation rather than challenge it. You go with the flow, and you do so as the book is unadulterated fun.

To those novels mentioned above you can also detect the influence of classic Russian/European literature, perhaps most pointedly the romantic travails of Pushkin’s novel in verse Yevgeny Onegin, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons dangereuses, and Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, where deceit and misunderstanding, as well as questions of class and status, mean that true love looks doomed to fail. It’s against this background, and her own increasingly complicated love-life, that Shona has to complete her mission, as well as an ever-increasing body count.

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar is a crime novel for those people who think they don’t like crime novels. It is also a novel of manners, a comedy, a romance, (although not necessarily a romantic-comedy), and a work of science fiction. With so many influences at work, and genres juggled, it really shouldn’t work but it never falls down and Olga Wojtas should be praised for pulling such a feat off. I’m pretty sure I won’t read anything like it this year, unless it is ‘Miss Blaine’s Prefect’s’ next mission impossible, and I’m hoping that we won’t have to wait too long for that.

New Musical Success: A Review Of The Best In New Music…


Welcome one and all to the first New Musical Success of 2018, the SWH! regular review of the best new music to have found its way to our ears in recent times. As January is the month of Celtic Connections in Glasgow there is an understandable folk-ish hue to the following selection. But if your musical tastes lie in other directions have no fear as we believe there to be something to interest everyone, and we might just surprise you.

We’re going to kick off with a musician who has appeared on these pages many times before, whether as a member of Teen Canteen or with the moniker of Ette. She is Carla J. Easton and she is now making music under her own name. However, no matter what the name it is business as usual as Easton continues to prove she is incapable of making music which is anything other than magical. Her latest single is ‘Lights In The Dark’, and it is a moody and mature slice of electro pop which shows others just how this sort of thing should be done. Carla J. Easton deserves to reach the widest audience possible and this could be the song to do just that. Take a listen and see if you agree:

Salt House are Ewan MacPherson, Jenny Sturgeon and Lauren MacColl, three fine musicians who aren’t afraid of a collaboration or in bringing something new to folk music. This song, ‘Charmer’, is taken from their latest album Undersong and it is a great example of just that. It’s fresh and utterly contemporary, with a hypnotic and emotional quality in evidence, yet there is something from the ages as well – an understanding of and respect for the tradition in which they play and to which they belong. One listen will not be nearly enough, and you’ll soon find that theirs is music which stays with you:


While we are talking about new takes on the traditional, few do so with such interesting results as Kirsty Law. Steeped in the Scottish ballad and folk tradition, she works in different musical and artistic mediums, collaborating with other like-minded souls to produce music which is unlike anyone else. If you can catch her live then you should do just that, and a date for your diaries is 16/6/18 when she will be appearing at The Braemar Gallery as part of this year’s Gigs At The Gallery season (familial plug – tick). Her latest album project is Young Night Thought (which you can pre-order here) and she has released a few “Song Sketches” to give a flavour as to what to expect. Here is the latest, featuring the unmistakable voice of Karine Polwart. It’s called ‘Underneath The Sycamore’, and it promises great, great things:

Collaboration seems to be the order of the day, and next we have a single from a veritable super group of Scottish musicians. The Gracious Losers is their name, and they include members of Sister John, Tenement And Temple/Thrum, and the legendary Parsonage Choir. Such undertakings can be unwieldy (Praxis, anyone?) but if the first single, ‘Where The River Meets The Sea’, is any indication then we are in the safest of hands. With influences in evidence such as The Allman Brothers, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Little Feat, as well as their Celtic cousins The Waterboys and Van Morrison, The Gracious Losers take the expansive country rock and soul rooted in North American mythology along the highways and B-roads of Scotland. Deep and wide and tall – ‘Where The River Meets The Sea’ is all of those while remaining intensely personal. Fingers crossed there is an album to follow:

Sometime matters can be summed up simply, and simply speaking Alessi’s Ark make impeccable pop music. The latest single ‘DLD (Door Light Dream)’ confirms that statement to be true, combining the folk/pop of Beth Orton and Tracy Thorn with more experimental musicians such as Lou Rhodes and Laura Veirs. Taken from the excellent  album Love Is The Currency, ‘DLD’ is a free-and-easy sunny afternoon in the shape of a 3-minute pop song, one to lift you up and keep you there. It proves that Alessi is one of the most interesting musicians around today. More of this sort of thing, please, 2018:

‘Are You Free Now’ is the first single from Jamie Sutherland‘s debut album Bruise, another must-have record coming our way soon. Sutherland’s laid-back style matches the music which is understated but always interesting, gently building to an emotional ending which catches you unaware. There is something of The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan in Sutherland’s voice, a comparison I do not make lightly (in fact I may never have done so before). The more you listen to ‘Are You Free Now’ the better it gets, offering up something new each time – or perhaps just inviting you to listen closer. Every song featured in this review is special, but if I made music this is the sort of music I would want to make. But I don’t, so repeated listens will have to do. As compromises go, it’s one of the best:

One of SWH!’s favourite albums of last year was Stephen McClaren‘s debut solo album We Used To Go Raving (Errant Media). The latest single taken from it is ‘Yet Again, I Have Offended Everyone’, and if you haven’t already bought We Used To Go Raving this may be the song to persuade you. From the opening piano refrain and sparing electronica it’s unmistakably McLaren, with his plaintive, doleful, yet soulful, vocals working beautifully against that brittle soundtrack. His music has an unerring ability to break your heart yet leave you uplifted at the same time, and I must admit I’m not entirely sure how he does it. Then again, if everything could be explained what a dull world it would be. Just settle back and accept. There’s a lovely video by Jordan Yorkston as well:

What this roundup proves is that there is a lot of great brand-new music out there. Another debut album to seek out is Courage Reels by Wozniak. Described as “Edinburgh shoegazers”, there’s a lot more going on than that description may suggest. There are echoes of the black metal of Black Sabbath and the unsettling psychedelic folk of Trembling Bells. Mesmeric and unsettling, if this is dream pop it’s moving towards the nightmare end of that spectrum. If there is a folk-horror revival, and films such as Ben Wheatley’s Kill List and A Field in England, as well as Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney suggest that there may be, then Wozniak supply the perfect soundtrack. If you’re going to make some noise, you may as well do it with as much class as you can muster, and Wozniak are sheer class:

That’s your lot for this month, and apologies if your band or song didn’t feature. We very much appreciate everyone who gets in touch and sends us music to consider, and everything is listened to carefully. If you want to do just that then you can email


Rage Against The Mainstream: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To 404 Ink…


For the first podcast of 2018 Ali went to Edinburgh to talk to Heather McDaid and Laura Jones who are behind the innovative and acclaimed independent publishers 404 Ink. If you aren’t yet familiar with the name then where the hell have you been?

As well as their unmissable periodical literary magazine, they have published the phenomenal Nasty Women, introduced us to Chris McQueer through his debut collection of short stories Hings, collaborated with rock band Creeper on The Last Days Of James Scythe, and are due to publish SWH! favourite Helen McClory‘s new collection of short fiction Mayhem & Death as well as republishing her award winning On The Edges Of Vision (one of the best books of recent years), and that’s really only scratching the surface.

The two talk about their inspirations and the reasons for deciding to work 404-ink-photo-suzanne-heffron-please-credit-LST258809together, the phenomenon of Nasty Women and the challenges which followed, the desire to publish new voices, the importance of social media and different methods of funding, mixing content and contributors, why the live experience is increasingly important for writers and publishers, and their belief that anniversaries of note should never go uncelebrated.

It’s essential listening for anyone interested in books, writers, writing and culture in general, which surely must be all of you reading this. What you get is a fascinating discussion on the way that all of the things we celebrate and champion on SWH! can be approached, produced, promoted, and funded in different and inventive ways. All this and Jeff Goldblum too.

If you want to get involved with 404 Ink, (and once you’ve listened you will), you can find out how to do just that over at Patreon.  The Kickstarter for the forthcoming collaboration with BHP Comics, We Shall Fight Until We Win, a graphic novel celebrating the centenary of the first wave of women gaining the right to vote, is open now for your consideration. Everything else you need to know about what 404 Ink do can be found over at their website. You can also keep in touch by following them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

…or on YouTube:


We have got some great podcasts lined up for 2018, the next of which will be with you very soon, so keep ’em peeled…

Scotch & Wry: A Review Of Rachel McCormack’s Chasing The Dram: Finding The Spirit Of Whisky…


Now, I love books, and I love whisky, but I haven’t come across many great whisky related books over the years. Iain Banks’ Raw Spirit: In Search Of The Perfect Dram is one, Tom Morton’s Spirit Of Adventure: Journey Beyond the Whisky Trails another. Michael Jackson (no, not that one) always writes well on the subject, last year saw the publication of Iain Hector Ross’s informative and entertaining The Whisky Dictionary, and for something a little different Doug Johnstone’s whisky driven novel Smokeheads will always do the trick.

To those we can safely add Rachel McCormack’s Chasing The Dram, which is a personal yet meticulous tale of her love affair with whisky as well as an examination of the people, places, rituals, rumours, and even recipes which go with it. McCormack believes that limiting whisky as just a drink does it a disservice, underselling its complexities. As someone who, in a previous life, cooked for a living this was fascinating to me. Over the years I can probably count on one hand the dishes in which I have incorporated whisky (whisky sauce, Cranachan, Christmas cake, tablet, and chocolate truffles are those which spring to mind). One of the many joys of Chasing The Dram is that it is part cookbook, and a fine one at that.

McCormack knows of which she writes. She is a well-regarded food writer who regularly appears as a panellist on Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet, and some of the recipes in the book are irresistible. From the mouth-watering Venison Biryani, through Lobster Loaves and Oysters with Whisky, Duck Stuffed with Prunes, and Roast Syringed Lamb, to Zabaglone with Arran Amarone Cask, and a Whisky Tiffin which I can attest is as delicious as it is simple to make, there are dishes described here which will change the way you view the relationship between whisky and food. I’ll certainly never have a port with cheese again when there’s an appropriate dram on offer.

But that is only part of the story. Introduced to whisky in purely medicinal hot toddies in her teenage years, McCormack was lucky enough to have a father who would use good Macallan, (as opposed to a slug of High Commissioner or similar), to cure what ails. Her relationship with her father could be said to mirror that of Scotland with whisky. Put simply, both are complicated, and McCormack doesn’t shy away from the personal, bringing family and friends into the book to help her put this obsession (and it does seem to be just that) into perspective as she is determined that other people should share in her passion. It is this combination which makes Chasing The Dram such a captivating read.

It’s a book which examines how Scotland’s national drink has come to define the past, present, and future of a nation which increasingly relies on a product it doesn’t really understand. McCormack travels the country to try to separate the fact from the fiction, and there is plenty of both. What raises Chasing The Dram over most food and drink books is the writing itself. McCormack is funny, engaging, irreverent, honest and insightful. She is not afraid to go against convention and take a pop at a sacred cow or two if she believes it is justified (although I do feel she is a little harsh on Walter Scott, but then I think I’m one of the few people who still read him).

It is a book for the whisky fanatic, (with a glossary of terms and, perhaps more importantly, the addresses of Scotland’s distilleries included). But it’s also a book for anyone interested in food and drink, and Scotland in general as McCormack casts a keen and critical eye on the country – through a glass, darkly at times. The result is one of the most entertaining non-fiction books I have read in ages. By the end you’ll be convinced that everything in life can be improved by the right whisky, and you’ll find no argument here. Slainte.

Rachel McCormack’s Chasing The Dram: Finding The Spirit Of Whisky is published by Simon & Schuster

Fine And Dandy: A Review Of Charles E. McGarry’s The Ghost Of Helen Addison…


Against all expectations, the Christmas/ New Year period allowed for the reading of some of the books which have been sitting on SWH!’s ever present ‘must-read’ pile, and the next few posts will review at least a couple of those. First up is Charles E. McGarry’s The Ghost Of Helen Addison, which introduces us to Leo Moran, a Glaswegian private eye who is unlike any you’ll have met before, which is in itself a reason for cheer.

In the world of crime-fiction, and Scottish crime-fiction in particular, the belief persists that the genre is one which relies on familiar tropes, stereotypes and cliches. However, I would hope that the work of many of the writers of crime who have featured on these pages, including Louise Welsh, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Douglas Skelton, Michael J. Malone, Alice Thomson and Russel D. McLean, would have changed readers’ preconceptions if they persisted. All of those mentioned, and many others, have very distinct styles and are wildly and wonderfully different to one another. If you’ve yet to embrace Scottish crime fiction, you’re missing out.

Which bring us back to Leo Moran, the decidedly dapper Glaswegian detective who takes on the case of the suspicious death of a young woman in Argyll. McGarry depicts Moran in wonderful detail, and there is a lot of detail to detail. For instance, this is a typical evening meal, “He started with some exquisite Oban scallops with braised pig’s cheek, followed by mock turtle soup, braised halibut, and then saddle of venison in a beetroot and sloe gin jelly, all washed down with a bottle of Chambertin.” This is not your typical Clydeside gumshoe, but someone who presents to the world a desire for the finer things in life, and a sensibility bordering on foppish. How you react to that last sentence will probably dictate if you instinctively warm to Leo Moran or not, but either way he is worthy of your attention.

As someone who likes to delude themselves that they know their collars and cuffs, and the difference between an Oxford and Derby brogue, Leo Moran’s sartorial style and eye-for-detail appeal greatly. He likes to think himself a man of elan and taste, but this, as it almost always is, is part of his armour against the world, a costume which he chooses with great care. More Sherlock Holmes than Laidlaw, Parlabane, or Queste, you initially feel he just wasn’t made for these times.

However, a great detective is defined by their deeds rather than their duds, and Moran’s first case is a complex one, with lots of possibilities as to whodunnit. Having been introduced to Leo it is all to easy to imagine how he could wind up local police and other residents of Argyll, not only bringing his individual style to their locale, but an attitude to match. Have no doubt, this is a flawed character, and just as he has to uncover the secrets and lies of those he meets to try to discover the killer, so the reader must look past the surface layers to understand what motivates and drives Leo Moran.

Add to this his abilities as a ‘seer’, able to communicate with the dead – (a supernatural twist which will surely be developed in future) – and you begin to understand that this is no ordinary detective novel. The titular ghost of Helen Addison becomes an accomplice in solving the case, although not enough is made of her infrequent appearances until the very end.

The Ghost Of Helen Addison is named as being “The First Leo Moran Murder Mystery”, which is welcome as this is a detective and a writer who I want to spend more time with. That would allow McGarry not only to explore other aspects of Moran’s personality, but, more importantly moving forward, that of other characters. The problem in having such a memorable protagonist is that every one else struggles to make an impression.

Not only could more have been made of Helen, but also DI Laing, the Fettes’ educated and fabulously monickered Fordyce Greatorix, and significant others. This is particularly applicable to Moran’s “friend” and confidante, Stephanie, who brings welcome insight and cynicism to proceedings when she appears, and who has the potential to be the Watson to his Holmes, puncturing his pomposity and calling him out on his prejudices when need be.

With The Ghost Of Helen Addison Charles E. McGarry has presented a new voice to Scottish crime fiction, and a memorable character to match. I’m looking forward to seeing how these novels develop as they not only have the potential to become a series which bring something fresh to the genre, but could also transfer to screen. I for one would like to see Leo Moran made flesh, if only for the wardrobe hints and restaurant recommendations.

The Ghost Of Helen Addison is out now, published by Polygon Books.

Get Connected: SWH!’s Pick Of Celtic Connections 2018…


“January, sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me”, sang Edinburgh’s Pilot in 1975 and even if you’re not quite sure what it means, you get the gist. For me, a year doesn’t get going properly til Celtic Connections begins. A festival which never fails to deliver, and which continues to grow in terms of number of gigs, breadth of music, and international stature – deep, and wide and tall.

This year is the 25th anniversary, which is worth celebrating in itself, but which would mean little if the quality wasn’t maintained. Have no fear as Celtic Connections shows no signs of slowing down.

As always, we’d like to point you in the direction of lesser known gems which can be found at the festival alongside the headliners and more well-kent attendees, which this year include Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, Kate Rusby, Shawn Colvin, Kathryn Williams, Beth Orton, Joe Henry and The Mavericks!

You can peruse the full programme at your leisure at Celtic Connections, and receive all the up-to-date news by following on Twitter, and Facebook.  But before you rush away to do so, here are Scots Whay Hae!’s Top Picks, (complete with links to further details), or, what we like to call, ‘the best of the rest of the fest’…

Findlay Napier’s Glasgow – 20th Jan, The Mackintosh Church

SOUNDING Modern Studies & Lomond Campbell with The Pumpkinseeds Chamber Orchestra – 21st Jan, Saint Luke’s

Last Night from Glasgow: Carla J. Easton, Zoe Bestell and The Miss’s – 25th Jan, The Hug & Pint

Lizabett Russo – 27th Jan, Oran Mor

Last Night from Glasgow: Sister John, Annie Booth and Andrew Nicol – 28th Jan, The Hug & Pint

Northern Flyway – 29th Jan, Tron Theatre

Eugene Kelly (The Vaselines) and Special Guests – 29th Jan, The Hug & Pint

James Yorkston and Sarah Hayes & Sara Kazmi – 30th Jan, The Glad Cafe

Colin Macleod and Wallis Bird – 1st Feb, Saint Luke’s

Sound of Yell, Ilk and Aby Vulliamy – 2nd Feb, The Glad Cafe

Siobhan Wilson with the Demi Octet and Jamie Sutherland – 3rd Feb, The Mackintosh Church

Out Lines and Hamish Hawk – 4th Feb, Saint Luke’s

Hopefully see you at at least one of the above…