WEEK TWENTY-EIGHT – Arthur Conan Doyle/Ian Rankin

>> Arthur Conan Doyle

Ian Rankin <<

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle          ianrankin

Crime is the link – crime and the writers of crime – between our two themes this week, with each separated by their times and the characters of their creations. As this project seeks to examine the ‘soul of Scotland’ it is clearly essential to take in the ever-popular ‘Tartan Noir’.  Long before that term was coined, however, one Scottish writer was almost the inventor of crime fiction and certainly one of the most important popularisers of the genre. Indeed, so successful in this was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that his creation Sherlock Holmes now exceeds him in fame. Born in Edinburgh in 1859, he published 56 short stories and four novels featuring the detective as well as numerous plays, novels and other writings. Coming right up to date, our other crime writer Ian Rankin was born in 1960, thirty years after Conan Doyle’s death, in Cardenden, Fife. Also renowned for the creation of a detective – and Inspector Rebus is rightly famous – few would suggest that his fame exceeds that of his creator. With twenty Rebus novels to his name and a long list of other publications, the author promises to excite the fans of Tartan Noir for many years to come.

A Tip Of The Hat To Doyle’s Improbability
by John Mackie

“…when you have excluded the impossible
whatever remains, however improbable,
must be the truth”.

among many Reekie spawned
fortune seekers
inventing themselves migrating
their myriad skills to a teeming Empire;
from the squalor of  Sciennes Place

a boy whose Jesuit uncles’ money
helped shape to
an open restless minded
ambitious diasporan  doctor ,
anglophile hybrid adventurer, chameleon,
botanist, cricketer, spiritualist, Knight

campaigner for justice
trained at the birth
of  forensic medicine by
Joseph Bell his Edinburgh tutor
in inference, close observation, deductive arts;
from this Scot’s  practiced

ground breaking sharp
diagnostic tools he
“built a man” quintessentially
English consulting sleuth Holmes
solving crime  via reason
to lay before the world

yet, not so simply
rational this
paragon of science ,
see hammed to the hilt
by Rathbone and Cumberbatch
the cocaine, the morphine, the Strad

at home introspective
in Baker Street
with Mendelssohn,
Lassus’ polyphonics or
lazily scraping boredom away;
transforming for Doyle

that creation of his
exotic  hybrid
earning him passage
from the shadow of debt
to a writer’s mansion,
a consultant’s role

as intellectual and judge
in the public space
between reason , belief, justice and law
“Selbit’s clairvoyance is honest” , hmmm
“Edaji is innocent” :oh yes
gestating a Court of Appeal

Mason bibbed
Knight Bachelor dubbed
excusing scorched earth,
poisoned wells, concentration
camps for Boers
he hoped for more;

for Parliament,
perhaps the Lords
(this last floored
by that Jesuit past).
I tip my hat
to the bright Reekie lad

who persists
as emblem
of a skin changing flair
for re-invention,
and circling the square


Gimme Shelter
by Matt Macdonald

For Ian and John…but mostly John

there are
too many echoes
he said
fingers gentle
on the edge
of a glass of whisky
more kin to fire
than water, air
or earth

he knows the city
like a bruise,
can feel it moving
like a fracture in the shin
not quite enough
to fall over
but enough that
he knows the colour of pain
the city knows him
like a fingerprint in blood
always thumbing the edges
he was the only one
who really knew that the job
was all about watching the edges

these windows
show him a city that
grows beyond his limits
his reach is shorter
the city has become
equal parts shamble
and glitter
it drinks for the hell of it
he drinks because
it still hurts
drunk driver cracked pelvis
though his did not
he has walked
with a limp for years

he stands
which is more than enough
for some days
waits for the whisky
to burn away the edges
of this new breakdown
shrugs on the city
like a badly fitted coat
he is sure there’s a fiver
squashed into one of the pockets
does not bother to look
he would never spend it

there is something to be said
for fading away, all echoes and ghosts
rather than burning out, all sparks
and embers and the residue of ash
but he was a man with fire
in his bones
and there was never enough
water to drown in



john mackie picJohn Mackie has been published as a poet and lyricist since 1965 and continues to perform, record and publish across a range of platforms including, in 2016, Clear Poetry, IANASP, and Poets’ Republic. His spoken word and music collaborations can be found on Spotify and iTunes. Since returning from the diaspora he lives close to the sea in Banff.


Matt MacdonaldPhotoMatt Macdonald has been writing and performing for 7 years. His debut pamphlet Who Are Your People? came out through Red Squirrel Press in 2014, and his debut collection is forthcoming from the same publisher. He slams frequently and has competed at the Scottish National Slam on two occasions. He performs in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe every year.



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