If it’s a dreich day, keep the heid, and gie it laldy, dig into this list of eighteen books set in Scotland
(Roughly translated from incomprehensible Scottish slang: if it’s a wet and damp day, keep calm and, with 100% effort, dig into this list of eighteen books set in Scotland.)
Scotland has a literary tradition that is a lot like it’s weather; stormy and unpredictable. Outlander’s hot and hunky Scottish countryside has created a resurgent interest in books set in Scotland. This list of Scottish books, prepared by a recovering bookseller, will help you explore more of it’s culture, landscape, dark humor and idiosyncratic slang. I’m hoping that it will inform or inspire you to travel there.
(Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that if you chose to purchase, I’ll get a small commission.)
Books Set in Scotland
Historical Fiction Set in Scotland
Scotland was founded in in 843 AD and even the “new” part of Edinburgh is four hundred years old, so there is a LOT of history to explore. These historical fiction books on Scotland will take you back in time and help you explore some of that history.
Waverly, Sir Walter Scott
From Amazon– The book…”tells the story of Edward Waverley, a naïve young man who is posted to Scotland with his regiment. Edward must decide whether he will follow the civilization he has always known, or be drawn into an older world of honor.” Edinburgh’s own Waverly Train station is named for this novel and it has the distinction of being the only train station with a literary name. The station and the Sir Walter Scott monument are must see for literary tourists.
Rob Roy, Sir Walter Scott
If you like Waverly, then keep going with Rob Roy. The title character is the Chieftain of the MacGregor clan trying to stay one step ahead of his pursuers while also helping his cousin but the kibosh on a dastardly plan to steal the family business. Rebellious and swashbuckling.
Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
Outlander is responsible for a resurgent interest in Scottish books. It has the right mix of fantasy, romance and bloody Scottish clan wars. A British combat nurse, just back from World War II is reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon in Scotland. She steps between two stones in an ancient standing circle and is whisked away to a warring and dangerous Scotland of 1743. The book offers a fictional backdrop to Scotland’s Highland history and it’s a rollicking adventure. And if you like the first one, there are seven more books and a TV series to keep you busy.
At the Water’s Edge, Sara Gruen
The author of Water for Elephants comes back with the story of a couple who, after disgracing themselves in the Philadelphia society scene, are banished to the highlands on a scheme to track down the Loch Ness monster. From the reviews, “a story about opening up to our inner self.”
Scottish Crimes & Misdemeanors
Scotland has very moody weather and I suspect that the resulting seasonal affective disorder has driven Scottish authors a bit over the edge because murder mystery books set in Scotland have a very dark and edgy tone.
Macbeth, William Shakeaspeare
Traitors, a murdering king and a witches brew of toiling trouble follow James VI of Scotland in 1603.
A Strange Scottish Shore, Juliana Grey
If you like the time travel and romance aspect of Outlander, then you may like A Strange Scottish Shore. In it, Emmaline Truelove is off to the Orkney Islands to work on an archaeology dig. While there, she and her colleague, the Duke of Olympia run across a mystery involving a suite of clothing, a selkie legend and a missing friend.
Inspector Rebus Series, Ian Rankin
Rankin’s Inspector Rebus is a perceptive, fragile curmudgeon of a detective. In this classic police procedural series, the detective asserts his independence, much to the annoyance of his “betters”. And he usually get his man. You can start anywhere in the series but the first book is Knots and Crosses.
The Blackhouse (Lewis Trilogy series), Peter May
Edinburgh cop Fin Macleod is sent out the outer Hebrides to Lewis Island in order to investigate a hanging. Fin was raised on the remote island and finds that his return puts a grip onto his psyche.
Case Histories, Kate Atkinson
Private investigator Jackson Brodie takes on three seemingly unrelated crimes. Scotland’s moody landscape is a major character and Brodie is a complex character who manages to be both dark and funny. If you like the first one (and I did very much), then you can read the whole series.
Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
Mark Renton, (Rent), is a petty thief and a world class heroin addict. He and his equally degenerate band of junkies, nuts and thugs paint a gritty but colorful picture of Edinburgh in the late ’80’s. Reading the book will give you a great primer on the hard to decipher Scottish accent and insight into the darker side of the city.
Scottish Books with Quirky, Unorthodox and Sorta Likeable Characters
Skewing the neighbors, bucking the orthodoxy, loner cranks and crappy husbands are just some of the crazy characters that you’ll find in these books.
44 Scotland Series, Alexander McCall Smith
Inspired by Maupin’s “Tales of the City”, this series features a series of quirky characters who bumble through life in their beloved Edinburgh. McCall follows the neighbors and residents of 44 Scotland street and “delivers plenty of twists and turns as he skewers the puffery, the pretense, the tedium and self-defeating moves in his characters’ daily lives”.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Sparks
Miss Jean Brodie applies unorthodox teaching methods to her cadre of boarding house students with devastating effects. “Safety does not come first. Goodness, truth and beauty come first. Follow me”
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
Except that Eleanor Oliphant isn’t really fine, she struggles with social skills and avoids social interactions. She and the other “not really fine” characters in this book come together to help rescue one another from their lives of isolation.
The End of the World Running Club, Adrian J. Walker
Out of all of these books on Scotland, this dystopic family love story is my favorite. The story is a cross between The Road and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Edgar Hill, a loving but crappy husband and father finds himself separated from his family after a catastrophic meteor shower wipes out much most of Edinburgh (and the rest of the northern hemisphere). The story follows him as he literally runs to find his family and he has to deal with the mess of both the landscape and his own mind along the way.
Travel Books on Scotland
You really should visit Scotland. The country has the trifecta of great European offerings: epic landscapes, cool cities and castles. What more do you want? Plan your trip there with one of the following great guide books on Scotland.
- Go ahead, get one of the guides listed above, but also check out my Guide to Disobeying Rick Steves in Edinburgh for an alternative itinerary.
- Then take an urban stroll on the Water of Leith walkway and take a tour with Dobby of Harry Potter.
- Check out Two Scots Abroad’s Guide to Scotland.
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