9 Books Set in Edinburgh, Scotland
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Edinburgh’s literary prowess runs deep. Home to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, JM Barrie and JK Rowling, there’s no shortage of literature that has come from the minds of this UNESCO City of Literature. Edinburgh has not only provided the home to these literary minds, but has also set the setting for many works of Scottish literature.
These 9 books set in Edinburgh explore a range of different literary works that have been set in Scotland’s capital city. From classic historical novels by Sir Walter Scott to modern literary stories by Irvine Welsh this list covers titles that tell the stories of the city itself.
Interested in other Scottish novels? Be sure to check out this guide to books set in Scotland.
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1. 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
Welcome to 44 Scotland Street, home to some of Edinburgh’s most colorful, yet ordinary, characters. There’s Pat, a 21-year-old who has recently moved into a flat with Bruce, an athletic young man with a keen awareness of his own appearance. Their neighbor, Domenica, is an eccentric and insightful widow. In the flat below are Irene and her appealing son Bertie, who is the victim of his mother’s desire for him to learn the saxophone and Italian – all at the tender age of five.
These witty and very real portrait of Edinburgh society brings out love triangles, a lost painting, intriguing new friends, and an encounter with a famous Scottish crime writer. It feels like you’re reading through a sitcom and you’ll leave the pages of the novel with a soft spot for each of the characters.
2. The Fanatic by James Robertson
Andrew Carlin takes his job as a ghost very serious. Part of one of Edinburgh’s famous ghost walks, Carlin is paid to play the ghost of Covenanter Major Thomas Weir, who has been executed on charges of witchcraft, in 1670. Carlin dives deep into the history of his ghost and the period that he lived in, becoming entangled in deadly events of the past.
The Fanatic switches back and forth between the 1990s of Carlin’s time and the events he becomes so obsessed with in the late 17th century. This book set in Edinburgh marks an engaging and enlightening historical read on a crucial time in Edinburgh’s (and Scotland’s) history.
3. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Sparks
Miss Jean Brodie, a teacher at an elite Edinburgh girl’s school is in her prime, make no mistake about it. Through her prime she uses unorthodox teaching methods to mold the minds of young girls in 1930s in this book set in Edinburgh. Her prized pupils become known as the Brodie Set and through the eyes of these six girls we learn about the downfall of Miss Brodie.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a short, but powerful novel that switches back and forth between past and future to unfurl the complex events and personalities involved in the story.
4. The Heart of Mid-Lothian by Sir Walter Scott
It would be a crime to Scottish literature to not include a novel from Sir Walter Scott (one of Edinburgh’s most celebrated writers) on this list of books set in Edinburgh. Named after the infamous Tolbooth Prison in the center of Edinburgh, The Heart of Mid-Loathian is one of his most popular novels.
The novel opens against the backdrop of the infamous Porteous riots that rocked the city in the 18th century and through its protagonist Jeanie Deans, explores the complex meanings of justice in mid-1700s Edinburgh. When her sister comes to trial for infanticide, Jeannie does everything she can to try to prove her sister’s innocence and bring justice to her family. While the novel does get slow at times, it’s an important look at Edinburgh’s lower classes in a time of immense change in the city.
5. The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson
You can’t go on a walking tour in Edinburgh without hearing of the urban legend that surround the murderous body snatchers that terrified the city – Burke and Hare. The pair lurked the dark alleys of the Edinburgh slums, look for “bodies” to kill and take to Edinburgh physician Robert Knox for practice.
Author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson, couldn’t resist taking this story and adapting this legend into a short story about grave robbers. The Body Snatcher will keep you on your toes throughout reading this horror story set in Edinburgh.
6. Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
The English have Detective Sherlock (ironically, written by a Scottish author), the Scottish have Inspector Rebus. Crime novels are a big deal in Scottish literature and Inspector Rebus is a household name across the homes of Scotland.
Based in Edinburgh, Knots and Crosses is the first in a long series of novels that follow the life and investigations of this beloved Scottish detective. With the city of Edinburgh being terrorized by a string of murders, Rebus must put his own problems to solve the crimes being committed by someone connected to him by an invisible knot of blood.
7. The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician by Tendai Huchu
Struggling to adapt to live after leaving their homes in Zimbabwe, three men look for a place for themselves in Edinburgh. There’s the Magistrate who one doled out justice in Zimbabwe now cleans toilets for a living. The Mathematician holds onto the belief that he want be here for long. And where the Maestro used to direct beautiful music, he now directs shopping carts back into Tesco from the car park.
The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician explores the complicated lives of immigrants in Edinburgh, diving deep into the feels of love, loss, belonging and politics of being forced to call a new city (and country) home.
8. Filth by Irvine Welsh
Irvine Welsh is well-known for his novel turned movie Trainspotting, a story of Edinburgh youth coming out of the darkness. Filth is very much the opposite type of story. Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson marks everything that could be wrong with a man – he’s a misogynist, a racist, a drug user, and an abuser. He will lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and back-stab his way there if he has to – an he’ll enjoy it the whole way there.
9. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner tells the story of the fervent and utterly self-righteous young Calvinist Robert Wringhim amidst the backdrop of Edinburgh. Raised in a highly religious household, where the speakers of god’s truth could do wrong, Wringham is easily corruptible by his mysterious companion, Gil Martin. He manipulates Wringham, assuring him that God’s true elect are not to be held to the law and his predestined place in heaven cannot be overturned by any of Wringham’s actions on earth.