10 Edinburgh…Classic Books Set in the City

A City of Literature is built on books. Well, hopefully bricks and mortar, too, but you can’t deny that the history of the city and the way it is perceived is just as prominent on the page. Here are some classics stories to enjoy.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark image

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

For some, Muriel Spark’s anti-heroine is Edinburgh. The tortured tones and holier-than-thou attitude so effectively brought to life by Dame Maggie Smith does reflect some of the city’s clichés, but you can’t deny that it is a ground-breaking book and a delicious read.

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Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh image

Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh’s astonishing Trainspotting made waves across the literary world when it was published in 1993. Focussing on a part of the city not known as a tourist attraction, the trials and tragedies of a group of young people growing up in Leith shine a harsh light on a culture of drug abuse, casual violence and deprivation.

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Knots and Crosses, Ian Rankin image

Knots and Crosses, Ian Rankin

Oxford has Morse, Edinburgh has Rebus. Criss-crossing the city to solve crimes, Ian Rankin’s hugely popular Inspector Rebus first appeared in Knots and Crosses and revealed a truly dark and gritty noir side to the City of Literature. Over the years and nearly 20 novels he might have increased the body count but we still love him.

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One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson image

One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson

Subtitled ‘A Jolly Murder Mystery’, this is the second in Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie crime series and sees the eponymous ex-private eye taking a trip to Edinburgh during the Festival. Admittedly, the Festival does make some people murderous but only Jackson could find himself both suspect and investigator.

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One Day, David Nicholls  image

One Day, David Nicholls

David Nicholls’ bestselling One Day may travel throughout the world, but it starts and ends in Edinburgh. Dexter and Emma graduate from the University of Edinburgh before setting down different paths in life, but a connection to each other and the time they spent in the capital remains.

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Complicity, Iain Banks image

Complicity, Iain Banks

One of Banks’ darkest novels, Complicity follows dissolute and unprincipled journalist Cameron Colley as he investigates a series of murders from the past. He finds not only that they might be related to a spate of more recent killings but that he might be more involved than he would like to admit.

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44 Scotland Street, Alexander McCall Smith image

44 Scotland Street, Alexander McCall Smith

Inspired by a conversation with Armistead Maupin about his classic Tales of the City, Alexander McCall Smith turned his attention to a classic ‘tenement’ of flats in Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town. Published daily in The Scotsman newspaper, we met child prodigy Bertie and and the mother of all pushy mothers and promptly fell in love.

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The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg image

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg

Two brothers, a murder, a spectral visitation on Arthur’s Seat, a stranger who may or may not be the Devil? Considered unfilmable, Hogg’s multifaceted tale of a young man haunted by doubt has been cited as an influence on everything from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to Fight Club.

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The Heart of Midlothian, Sir Walter Scott image

The Heart of Midlothian, Sir Walter Scott

An anonymous letter sent to Scott and a real-life bloody riot sparked when the Captain of the City Guards ordered soldiers to fire into a crowd gathered to see an execution form one of Scott’s best-loved novels. The Tolbooth – the city jail which features in the book – on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is marked by a stone heart.

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Quite Ugly One Morning, Christopher Brookmyre image

Quite Ugly One Morning, Christopher Brookmyre

Jack Parlabane is a journalist who works hard and plays harder, hence the fact he’s nursing a monstrous hangover when he stumbles across a murder down the stairs from the flat he’s holed up in. Initially a suspect, Parlabane sniffs a story and sets out to solve the crime.

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