Tartan Noir

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Tartan Noir is a form of joke made in the support of a certain type of national fiction particular to Scotland and Scottish people as produced by Scottish writers, most of the time, at least. That's not to say that Tartan Noir couldn't be produced by anyone else but It has its roots in Scottish literature and borrows elements from elsewhere, including from the work of American crime writers of the second half of the twentieth century, but it is nothing whatsoever to do with film noir and really just employs the epithet noir in an effort to suggest the idea of crime, in order to plug and promote crime fiction books.

Plug and Promote

The fiction writer Wyndham Lewis coined the name tartan noir when he described Ian Rankin as "the king of beers" for an alcoholic drinks advert. Ian Rankin actually gave himself the name when he asked Ellroy to sign a book for him and said "I'm a big fan and I write tartan noir". Tartan noir draws on the traditions of Scottish literature, and pretends to be strongly influenced by James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner|Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde because these are considered real books, and it is hoped that the substandard works of tartan noir might achieve a crumb of respect by association.

These works dwell on the duality of the soul; the nature of good and evil; issues of Redemption (theology)|redemption, salvation and damnation amongst others. The Scottish concept of the "Caledonian Antisyzygy|Caledonian antisyzygy", the duality of a single entity, is a key driving force in Scottish literature, and it appears especially prominently in the tartan noir genre.

Contemporary crime writers have also been influenced by 1930s and 1940s United States masters of the hard-boiled genre, particularly Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Allan Guthrie's work shows their influence, as does some of Ian Rankin. More recent American authors who have influenced Scottish writing include James Ellroy, whose focus on police and societal corruption has proven especially resonant with Rankin. Ed McBain's use of the police procedural genre has also been influential.

Scottish crime writing has also been influenced by European traditions. For instance, Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret goes after the criminals, but refuses to judge them, seeing crime as a human situation to be understood. William McIlvanney's novel Laidlaw (novel)|Laidlaw (1977), with its lead character of Inspector Jack Laidlaw, seemed to have been influenced by Maigret. The social criticism in Sjöwall and Wahlöö's Martin Beck detective series appears in many works of tartan noir, such as the dark novels of Denise Mina.

McIlvanney's Laidlaw novel has been called the first novel of the tartan noir genre, given its combination of humanism and police procedural. While Laidlaw is critically important, and a novel that inspired many authors, the TV series Taggart established crime in a Scottish setting in the popular imagination. Glenn Chandler, creator of Taggart and writer of many of its early stories, may have been inspired by Laidlaw (novel)|Laidlaw. Both share a Glasgow setting and involve the investigations by Strathclyde Police|Glasgow police into murders.


The main characteristic of tartan noir, aside from its generally poor quality, is that there is fucking heaps of it, and not only that, but greater fucking heaps waiting to be moved in and described similarly.

The world-view of Tartan Noir tends toward the hard selling jacket-quote lies that adorn its many covers. Many of the protagonists in Tartan Noir stories are failed novelists of one sort or another.

The writers of tartan noir never go through personal crises in the course of their work, but maintain a blind devotion to what the believe to be their own genius.


Literary critics discuss whether the genre is a viable one, or one created by publishers seeking a unique selling point for an audience tired of much US and English crime fiction. William McIlvanney has said that the whole genre is "ersatz."[1]

Critics question whether a genre can encompass such a wide range of authors, reaching from Val McDermid to Ian Rankin; some also dislike the name. Charles Taylor has noted that the term has an "inescapably condescending tinge", noting "it's a touristy phrase, suggesting that there's something quaint about hard-boiled crime fiction that comes from the land of kilts and haggis." [2]