Today I’m delighted to feature 3 time McIlvanney Prize longlister, Douglas Skelton. Douglas has dual strings to his writing bow as he is a crime writer who specialises in fiction and non-fiction being the author of 12 non-fiction titles and 12 (for far) novels. Currently he has two series, contemporary crime novels featuring journalist Rebecca Connolly and set in the Scottish highlands and islands (Polygon) and the Jonas Flynt historical series, set in the early 18th century (Canelo).
He’s been a bank clerk, tax officer, progress chaser (no, he still doesn’t know what it is), shelf stacker, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), journalist, editor and investigator.
Over to Douglas :
Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
This is a tough question because I love so many pieces of music. In fact, I write to music, mostly film scores, and I select what to use in the background to reflect whatever I’m writing.
So, forgive me for this selection being largely movie orientated! Also, ask me tomorrow and I’ll come up with five more.
There is a film called THE LAST VALLEY, which starred Michael Caine and Omar Sharif, for which composer John Barry wrote an absolutely beautiful theme for what is a fairly brutal movie. I am fan of Barry but this has to be my far my favourite of all his lush, romantic themes. Why? I enjoy the film, I enjoy the music but for some reason when I hear this I see the Kinloch Rannoch region of Perthshire, an area I love.
THE IPCRESS FILE, another track by John Barry. My work is filled with men and women who work alone, albeit surrounded by friends (very much a writer’s life too!). The theme to this classic 1960s spy movie, so much better than the recent TV version, is known as A Man Alone and you can hear it in the twangy arrangement. I love music that conjures up an image and this brings to mind a city street at night, frost forming a single street light and someone walking, shoulders hunched against the cold. Nothing like the actual opening credits at all.
FEELS LIKE HOME TO ME, composed by Randy Newman, sung by Bonnie Raitt. Although not composed specially for it, this was used in the John Travolta film ‘Michael’, which was my introduction to it. It’s romantic and melancholy at the same time.
Handel’s Sarabande, played by Mylene Klass. Handel’s composition has been used many times, particularly in Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’ but I have chosen this version because if there was ever a TV series to be made of my Jonas Flynt novels then I’d suggest this as the theme! It mixes the classical melody with a more up-to-date, in places almost Bondian, beat. And it doesn’t forget to bring the drama!
Theme to Man in a Suitcase. Ron Grainer’s theme to the mid 60s tv series as an absolute belter. And this was the guy who gave us the themes to Dr Who and The Prisoner, among others. I am currently rewatching the series and the music itself takes me right back to when I first saw it. It was subsequently used by Chris Evans but I’ll ignore that aberration.
What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
A dog. Or a cat. I know the day will come when I won’t be able to take care of a pet but I hope it’s a long way off. I have both a dog and cat now. They can be exasperating, but I wouldn’t be without them.
Music. As I explained above, I love music. I listen to it when I’m working, when I’m cooking, when I’m eating. I listen to a few tracks on my headphones before going to sleep. I could not imagine my world without it.
My computer. I can remember having to use a typewriter to write and it was a pain in the sit-upon. I do admit that I was hesitant to use my first word processor, as we called them back then, but I swiftly realised that they were far, FAR better than having to retype every draft.
My car. I’m not a huge fan of driving and public transport is vital but I need to have the freedom to suddenly decide to take off, with my dog in the back and my camera at the ready. I know it’s not good for the environment but I don’t do it every day.
My camera. Yes, I can go for long periods when not a shutter clicks but when the weather is right and I have the time, I love getting out and taking pics. I’m no use with people though!
Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?
People don’t always mean what they say.
People don’t always say what they mean.
Be prepared for rejection, both professionally and personally. It will still hurt but learn from it.
Hang onto good friends. They are worth their weight in gold.
Don’t be an ass.
Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you
I was once suspected of helping a prisoner escape from jail.
I wanted to be an actor
I spent the night with the actor Brian Cox (all very innocent, we were working – related to the entry above)
I worked with the former Labour leader, the late John Smith, on a series of talk shows.
I made a drama that won a Royal Television Society Award, Scottish section.
Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.
Travel more, especially the USA.
Be more organised. I might get on better.
Write a book that sells 400k copies in a single day.
Learn to play a musical instrument.
Stop being an ass.
Many thanks for joining me today Douglas. I enjoyed your music choices and I’m off to investigate the full soundtrack for The Last Valley as I really liked Vogel’s Dream. I am partial to film soundtracks and (showing my age) have several CD’s of films I’ve never seen but liked the music. I like your advice about people not meaning what they say and vice cersa. It reminds of when I got my first librarian’s job, apparently the staff didn’t know what to make of me because I said what I meant! I’m sure you’ll get to enjoy your pets for a long, long time yet – and at least cats won’t need taking for a walk which makes them less labour intensive! Here’s hoping you get to travel more and good luck with learning to play an instrument – do you have one in mind? I tried, and failed abysmally with the guitar as a student as I thought it would be cool, certainly cooler than the brass instruments I did play when I was younger. As for the 400K book sales in a day, fingers crossed!
(NB This post features Affiliate links from which I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases)
Jonas Flint. A Company of Rogues series
An Honourable Thief (A Company of Rogues 1)
1715. Jonas Flynt, ex-soldier and reluctant member of the Company of Rogues, a shady intelligence group run by ruthless spymaster Nathaniel Charters, is ordered to recover a missing document. Its contents could prove devastating in the wrong hands.
On her deathbed, the late Queen Anne may have promised the nation to her half-brother James, the Old Pretender, rather than the new king, George I. But the will has been lost. It may decide the fate of the nation.
The crown must recover it at all costs.
The trail takes Jonas from the dark and dangerous streets of London to an Edinburgh in chaos. He soon realises there are others on the hunt, and becomes embroiled in a long overdue family reunion, a jail break and a brutal street riot.
When secrets finally come to light, about the crown and about his own past, Jonas will learn that some truths, once discovered, can never be untold…
A Thief’s Justice (A Company of Rogues 2) – available to pre-order, due May 2023
London, 1716. Revenge is a dish best served ice-cold…
The city is caught in the vice-like grip of a savage winter. Even the Thames has frozen over. But for Jonas Flynt – thief, gambler, killer – the chilling elements are the least of his worries…
Justice Geoffrey Dumont has been found dead at the base of St Paul’s cathedral, and a young male sex-worker, Sam Yates, has been taken into custody for the murder. Yates denies all charges, claiming he had received a message to meet the judge at the exact time of death.
The young man is a friend of courtesan Belle St Clair, and she asks Flynt to investigate. As Sam endures the horrors of Newgate prison, they must do everything in their power to uncover the truth and save an innocent life, before the bodies begin to pile up.
But time is running out. And the gallows are beckoning…
Rebecca Connolly Thriller series
Thunder Bay (Book 1)
LONGLISTED FOR THE MCILVANNEY PRIZE 2019
When reporter Rebecca Connolly is told of Roddie Drummond’s return to the island of Stoirm she senses a story. Fifteen years before he was charged with the murder of his lover, Mhairi. When he was found Not Proven, Roddie left the island and no one, apart from his sister, knew where he was or what he was doing. Now he has returned for his mother’s funeral – and it will spark an explosion of hatred, bitterness and violence.
Defying her editor’s wishes, Rebecca joins forces with local photographer Chazz Wymark to dig into the secrets surrounding Mhairi’s death, and her mysterious last words of Thunder Bay, the secluded spot on the west coast of the island where, according to local lore, the souls of the dead set off into the after life. When another murder takes place, and the severe weather that gives the island its name hits, she is ideally placed to uncover the truth about what happened that night fifteen years before.
The Blood is Still (Book 2)
When the body of a man in eighteenth-century Highland dress is discovered on the site of the Battle of Culloden, journalist Rebecca Connolly takes up the story for the Chronicle.
Meanwhile, a film being made about the ’45 Rebellion has enraged the right-wing group Spirit of the Gael which isconnected to a shadowy group called Black Dawn linked to death threats and fake anthrax deliveries to Downing Streetand Holyrood. When a second body – this time in the Redcoat uniform of the government army – is found in Inverness,Rebecca finds herself drawn ever deeper into the mystery. Are the murders connected to politics, a local gang war orsomething else entirely?
A Rattle of Bones (Book 3)
Longlisted for McIlvanney Scottish Crime Book of the Year
In 1752, Seamus a’Ghlynne, James of the Glen, was executed for the murder of government man Colin Campbell. He was almost certainly innocent.
When banners are placed at his gravesite claiming that his namesake, James Stewart, is innocent of murder, reporter Rebecca Connolly smells a story. The young Stewart has been in prison for ten years for the brutal murder of his lover, lawyer and politician Murdo Maxwell, in his Appin home. Rebecca soon discovers that Maxwell believed he was being followed prior to his murder and his phones were tapped.
Why is a Glasgow crime boss so interested in the case? As Rebecca keeps digging, she finds herself in the sights of Inverness crime matriarch Mo Burke, who wants payback for the damage caused to her family in a previous case.
Set against the stunning backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, A Rattle of Bones is a tale of injustice and mystery, and the echo of the past in the present.
Where Demons Hide (Book 4)
Something scared Nuala Flaherty to death. When her body is found in the centre of a pentagram on a lonely moor, Rebecca is determined to find out what. Was she killed by supernatural means, or is there a more down-to-earth explanation?
Rebecca’s investigation leads her to a mysterious cult and local drug dealings. But what she doesn’t know is that crime matriarch Mo Burke still has her in her crosshairs. Mo wants payback for the death of her son, and after one failed attempt to hurt Rebecca, she is upping the ante. And this time, it could be lethal.
Children of the Mist (Book 5) – available to pre-order due July 2023
We come from the mist, and to the mist we will return . . .
A memorial service witnessed in the historic Black Wood of Rannoch sets Rebecca Connolly on the trail of a baffling story. Fergus McGregor told people he was going to Pitlochry for the day. He was never seen again. Five years later his deeply religious mother stills holds a memorial in the place Fergus loved because of its connections to the outlawed McGregor clan, the Children of the Mist.
What happened that day in this last vestige of the great Caledonian forest?
Does a family feud hold the key? Does an old recluse have the answers?
Or is there something malevolent hiding among the ancient trees?
Death Insurance (short story with Morgan Cry featuring Rebecca Connolly)
When Daniella Coulstoun, a claims assistant for a major insurance company, takes a call from a man who declares he will be dead within the hour, she dismisses him as a crank and doesn’t report the call.
But when a dead body is found in the caller’s flat her manager intervenes and threatens to call in the police.
Daniella already suspects there is something fishy going on within senior management and has been discussing it with Rebecca Connolly, a journalist in Inverness. When Daniella contacts Rebecca about the case, Rebecca thinks she recognises the dead man’s name. She contacts former cop Bill Sawyers, who reveals the man is a small-time crook.
With Daniella wading through a slimy morass of office and sexual politics and Rebecca surfing the belly of the Inverness underworld, together they uncover a web of lies, greed, fraud – and murder.
Davie McCall series
Blood City (Book 1)
Glasgow’s mean streets just got meaner. Can Davie McCall survive? Meet Davie McCall. Beaten, bloody… brutal. Irrevocably damaged by the barbaric regime of an abusive father, and haunted by memories of his mother’s murder, there is a darkness inside him. Enter Joe the Tailor. A sophisticated crimelord with morals, he might be the only man in the city Davie can trust. But then the bodies begin to mount…In 1980s Glasgow, the criminal underworld is about to splinter. Battle lines are drawn, and the gap between friend and enemy blurs as criminals and police alike are caught in a net of lies, murder and revenge that will change the city forever.
Crow Bait (Book 2)
They’ll all be crow bait by the time I’m finished…Jail was hell for Davie McCall. Ten years down the line, freedom’s no picnic either. It’s 1990, there are new kings in the West of Scotland underworld, and Glasgow is awash with drugs. Davie can handle himself. What he can’t handle is the memory of his mother’s death at the hand of his sadistic father. Or the darkness his father implanted deep in his own psyche. Or the nightmares…Now his father is back in town and after blood, ready to waste anyone who stops him hacking out a piece of the action. There are people in his way. And Davie is one of them.
Devil’s Knock (Book 3)
The Davie McCall saga returns in Devil’s Knock. Davie McCall has darkness inside him. A darkness that haunts him, but also helps him do despicable things to those trying to cause him and his friends harm. When Dickie Himes is killed in a club owned by the Jarvis clan, it sparks a chain of events that Davie knows can only lead to widespread gang war on the streets of mid- 90s Glasgow. The police are falling over themselves to solve the crime, but when justice is so easily bought or corrupted, Davie needs to take matters into his own hands. Davie has to contend with the ghosts of those he has failed, a persistent Hollywood actor and a scruffy dog with no name. When he finds a target on his back, will Davie be able to suppress the darkness inside him and refuse to kill… Or will the devil s knock be too tempting?
Open Wounds (Book 4)
Davie McCall is tired. Tired of violence, tired of the Life. He’s always managed to stay detached from the brutal nature of his line of work, but recently he has caught himself enjoying it. In the final instalment in the Davie McCall series old friends clash and long buried secrets are unearthed as McCall investigates a brutal five-year-old crime. Davie wants out, but the underbelly of Glasgow is all he has ever known. Will what he learns about his old ally Big Rab McClymont be enough to get him out of the Life? And could the mysterious woman who just moved in upstairs be just what he needs?
Dominic Queste series
The Dead Don’t Boogie (Book 1)
A missing teenage girl should be an easy job for Dominic Queste – after all, finding lost souls is what he does best. But wouldn’t it be better sometimes if lost souls just stayed that way? Jenny Deavers is trouble. She’s being hunted, and for the people tracking her, murder is nothing. As the bodies pile up, so does the pressure on Queste, both to protect Jenny and to find out who wants her dead. The trail leads him to a brutal world of gangsters, merciless hitmen, dark family secrets and an insatiable lust for power in the highest echelons of politics. Modern noir at its finest.
Tag – You’re Dead (Book 2)
Maverick investigator Dominic Queste is on the trail of missing butcher Sam Price. But he soon uncovers links to a killer with a taste for games. What began as a simple favour for his girlfriend quickly descends into a battle for survival against an enemy who has no qualms about turning victims into prime cuts. Amidst a twisted game of cat and mouse, suspicious coppers, vicious crooks and a seemingly random burglary, Queste has to keep his wits about him. Or he might just find himself on the butcher’s block.
Springtime for a Dead Man (short story)
When Dominic Queste is asked to spend an hour merely talking to troubled Sylvester Lemay, he has no idea where it will lead. But it’s Queste – he never has much of a clue anyway.
The Janus Run (standalone novel)
When Coleman Lang finds his girlfriend Gina dead in his New York City apartment, he thinks nothing could be worse…until he becomes the prime suspect. Desperate to uncover the truth and clear his name, Coleman hits the streets. But there’s a deranged Italian hitman, an intuitive cop, two US Marshals, and his ex-wife all on his tail. And trying to piece together Gina’s murky past without dredging up his own seems impossible. Worse, the closer he gets to Gina’s killer, the harder it is to evade the clutches of the mysterious organisation known only as Janus – from which he’d long since believed himself free. Packed with plot twists, suspense and an explosive climax, The Janus Run is an edge-of-the-seat, breathtaking thriller – NYC noir at its finest.
Non Fiction Titles
Scotland : Amazing and Extraordinary Facts
For a country with a relatively small population, Scotland has had a massive impact on the world. This intriguing miscellany uncovers the culture surrounding its shores, and celebrates the many characters, legends, firsts and inventions that have shaped the country’s rich and majestic history. This eye opening collection of trivia will enlighten you on many of the myths surrounding Scotland. Bagpipes, tartan and haggis are all archetypal images of Scotland, and yet none of them likely originated here. Clan wars, family feuds, invasions and battles are just some of the historical subjects divulged in this fascinating miscellany. Scots have also helped to create modern life, with innovators ushering in the Industrial Revolution, medical breakthroughs, not forgetting the Scottish engineers famed across the globe. Along the way you will also find entries on the food, the sporting heritage and darker tales of murder most foul. Brief, accessible and entertaining pieces on a wide variety of subjects makes it the perfect book to dip in to. The amazing and extraordinary facts series presents interesting, surprising and little-known facts and stories about a wide range of topics which are guaranteed to inform, absorb and entertain in equal measure.
Deadlier than the Male : Scotland’s Most Wicked Women
Most killers are men. But never turn your back on a woman. Murder, madness and maliciousness abound in this hangman’s dozen of she-devils. Culled from over five hundred years of bloody history by crime writer and journalist Douglas Skelton, these pages uncover the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know. • Vengeful Queen Joan, who made her husband’s assassins pay a fearful price for their treason. • Beautiful Jean Livingston, who bravely faced The Maiden after murdering her abusive husband. • Child killers Helen Torrence and Jean Waldie, who sold their victim to anatomists. • Baby farmer Jessie King, who dealt in flsh… and death. • These cases, together with a host of others, prove that women are far from the gentler sex. Most killers are men. But women are more deadly.
Bloody Valentine – Scotland’s Crimes of Passion
Love is the strongest emotion. It can bring people together but it can also drive them apart. For love can become twisted and evil. And, if obsession, jealousy and suspicion take hold, all other feelings can be prevented and sometimes lead to murder. In this disturbing catalogue of bloody valentines, crime writer and journalist Douglas Skelton delves into the darker side of Scotland’s psyche to uncover chilling crimes of passion where love turned sour and the outcome was lethal.
Out of Print/Second hand copies possibly available
Glasgow’s Black Heart : A City’s Life of Crime
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland. It is a city of culture, of impressive architecture, enterprise and endeavour, and is one of warm-hearted, generous people. But it also has a dark side.
Beneath the busy streets, the Victorian sandstone and urban trendiness lies a black heart that beats in rhythm with the roar of the traffic and the echo of footsteps on concrete. It is a black heart pumped by greed and lust, violence and murder. And it has beaten since the city first sprang up on that dear, green place on the banks of the Molendinar Burn. This is the epic story of Glasgow crime.
Beginning in 1624 when the Tolbooth was built at Glasgow Cross to house the courts and town jail, author Douglas Skelton covers four centuries of Glasgow’s hidden history, tracing the formation of the first paid police force in Britain, the Black Assizes of the circuit court and the formation of the city’s own High Court of Justiciary.
Here you will find the pimps and pushers, gangsters and gangleaders, rioters and robbers who flooded the veins of the city. Famous felons rub shoulders with their less notorious, but equally vicious, counterparts. Here also are the thief-takers, cops, lawyers and judges who tried to stem the gushing flow, some with more success than others.
These stories may not be what the City Fathers would like to see on Glasgow’s CV, but they are as much a part of its traditions and its legacy as the fish, the bell and the tree.
Dark Heart : Tales from Edinburgh’s Town Jail
The Old Tolbooth Jail – Edinburgh’s Bastille – was for five centuries the capital’s heart of darkness. The tall, turreted building blocked the High Street like a stone sentinel at the gates of Hell. In its early days, it played host to the Scottish Parliament and the Court of Session, but eventually it became the main jail of the Old Town. And it was a hellhole, the very epitome of what Scots Law called squalor carceris, a foul, dingy, plague-infested purgatory that was, nevertheless, an integral part of the history of the Old Town and the nation. Not for nothing did Sir Walter Scott dub it the Heart of Midlothian.
It was home to rich and poor, noble and ignoble, master and servant. Thieves, debtors, murderers and rebels all rotted in its filthy cells – many spending their final hours there before surrendering to the tender mercies of an executioner to be hanged, beheaded or burned.
Now, for the first time, the complete story of the Old Tolbooth is told, from its proud beginnings to its final downfall at the hands of municipal vandals. Featuring tales of some of the jail’s unwilling residents, including the noblemen who had their heads spiked on its tower, the black magician who threatened a monarch and one who scandalised the town with tales of sexual depravity, Dark Heart is the definitive account of one of the most interesting buildings in Edinburgh’s history.
Indian Peter : The Extraordinary Life and Adventures of Peter Williamson
Indian Peter is the remarkable story of Peter Williamson, who, in 1743 at the age of 13, was snatched from an Aberdeen quayside and transported to the burgeoning American colonies to be sold into indentured servitude. Unlike many others who found themselves in similar circumstances, Peter was fortunate to be bought by a humane man who left him money when he died, enabling him to buy his own farm after marrying.
According to Peter’s own account, his farm was attacked in 1754, during what became known as the French and Indian War, and he was captured by the Indians, who forced him to travel with them as a slave. After escaping, he joined the British Army to fight the French and their Indian allies but his regiment was forced to surrender and he was taken to Canada as a prisoner of war.
When he was eventually freed, Peter made his way back to Scotland and tracked down the men who were behind his initial kidnapping. He accused them publicly and took them to court in a landmark case that exposed the scandal of slave trading.
Once settled in Edinburgh, Peter became a publican, writer, publisher and entrepreneur. He developed Edinburgh’s first Penny Post system, launched a weekly magazine and shamelessly exploited his experiences for profit.
Brimming with action and adventure, Indian Peter is a true-life tale of abduction, war and courtroom drama. It is an inspiring story of courage, fortitude and one man’s determination to survive against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Scotland’s Most Wanted
Many of Scotland’s most notorious criminals are not murderers.
But they are no less evil for that. In this compelling new book one of our
top true-crime writers looks at the evil deeds that shocked a nation.
Fraudsters, conmen, poisoners, road-ragers, families from hell, gangsters,
armed robbers, drug smugglers, terrorists. They are all here. Surprisingly,
many of the perpetrators do not have the background normally associated
with criminals. Some are well-educated and held down professional jobs.
Others were highly respected in their communities. But they turned their
back on civilised values and chose a different path. A path that led to the
most heinous crimes imaginable.
Their names live in infamy: Dr Paul Agutter, Alison Anders, John Cronin,
Lucille McLauchlan, Lee Bell, Sandra Gregory, Matthew Lygate, Andrew
McIntosh, Gordon Modiak, the Haney clan, to name but a few. More than forty
cases are covered.
Devil’s Gallop : Trips into Scotland’s Dark and Bloody Past
Scotland is a fascinating country with a dark and bloody past – filled with characters who thought nothing of using torture, murder and treachery to get what they wanted. Many of its ancient sites are steeped in tales of skulduggery and dark doings – castles and houses, monuments and cairns, battlegrounds and burial grounds – each with a story to tell. Now, these historical figures, sites and stories have been brought together in this book. From dragons to dragoons, rebels to rabbles, warlocks to warfare, “Devil’s Gallop” mixes fact with legend to bring to life Scotland’s dark past, taking the reader on a series of tours ranging north as far as Inverness and south to Hermitage Castle in the Borders. Murderous monarchs, wicked witches and nasty nobles are all featured in these pages. There are tales of cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers; of religious fervour that led to rebellion; and of murder, abduction and general all-round villainy.
Frightener : The Glasgow Ice-Cream Wars – scarce
In the early 1980s, a war was being waged on the streets of Glasgow by rival ice-cream van owners for control of lucrative areas. This book describes how it escalated into violence that culminated in the death of six members of the same family in an arson attack on their home.