Douglas Skelton's Top 5 Crime Films

Douglas-SkeltonMcIlvanney Prize longlister Douglas Skelton wrote a blog for us about his top 5 crime films.

How often have you heard, even said, that film just wasn’t as good as the book?

Approaching film adaptations of loved books can be daunting.

There are so many questions.

Will they cast it well? Will it have all my favourite elements? Will it carry the same flavour that made me enjoy the book so much?

The successful ones all tick those boxes, and more.

It can go so very wrong so very easily. Just look at some of the dire movie versions of Alistair MacLean novels. ‘The Golden Rendezvous’ anyone? And don’t start me on the big screen attempt at Robert Ludlum’s ‘The Osterman Weekend.’

So here, in no particular order, are my five top page to screen transfers.

In half an hour I’ll have five more…


To Kill a MockingbirdHorton Foote deservedly won an Oscar for adapting Harper Lee’s masterpiece. As with all the films on this list, it contained everything from the book that was needed. And the casting was perfect, especially the kids and, of course, Gregory Peck – who also received an Academy Award. I must also make special mention of Elmer Bernstein’s evocative score.


Mystic RiverIt’s a big, fat book but Brian Helgeland’s Oscar-nominated screenplay managed to encapsulate everything to around two hours. Clint Eastwood must also be praised for his usual unshowy direction. This is my favourite Dennis Lehane book and the film did its dark, dramatic subject matter proud. Another Lehane book, ‘Gone, Baby, Gone’ was also filmed but to my mind less successfully because the script and the casting did not capture the nature of the characters as written.


Marathon Man William Goldman is another author and screenwriter I hold dear and he adapted his seminal thriller for director John Schlesinger. This shadowy paranoid nail-biter carried all the edge of the 70s in its sharp dialogue and splendid performances. There were slight deviations from the book – Paris replaced Edinburgh for one sequence – and the ending was rewritten, Goldman thinks by Robert Towne, but it remains, over 40 years later, a top-notch watch. See also another Goldman book to script, ‘Magic’ with Anthony Hopkins.


LA ConfidentialCo-scripted by Brian Helgeland and director Curtis Hanson (and winning them an Oscar), this celebrated version of James Ellroy’s dark, dense novel punched all the right buttons. Star-making turns from Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, and don’t forget James Cromwell’s unforgettably monstrous Dudley Smith, plus bang-on period detail and an atmospheric score by Jerry Goldsmith combined to create a film that gets richer with each viewing.


The Maltese Falcon A true classic that is – amazingly – Oscar light! There had been two other versions of the book, one (later renamed ‘Dangerous Female’) in 1931 and another, ‘Satan Met a Lady’, in 1936 with Bette Davis. Although by 1941 the Hays Code saw to it that much of the salacious elements of Dashiell Hammett’s novel were smoothed down (unlike the 1931 version), fledgling writer/director John Huston made what is regarded as the definitive version. Again, the casting – Bogart as Sam Spade, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, Elisha Cook Jnr – is damn near perfect, the tone is spot-on and Huston’s script carried as much of Hammett’s dialogue as was permissible. Although he did add the “stuff that dreams are made of” line.

Douglas will be at Bloody Scotland this year in Scotland the Grave on Saturday 10th September, 12:15pm. His book Open Wounds was longlisted for this year’s McIlvanney Prize.

Scotland the Grave

What a great name for a panel. Hats off to the copywriter who thought of this. It’s actually a very apt title for this panel too as it features four writers who dig and bury bodies all over Scotland for a living. What a day job!

There’s some grisly spots all over Scotland - cities with chilling corners and rural areas with more rot than is reasonable. To see Scotland through the eyes of four crime writers is to peer into its criminal soul and scream....

Gillian Galbraith enthuses about Edinburgh (on Booktrail)

Gillian GalbraithEdinburgh, a capital city with history and heritage right? Yes, but when Gillian Galbraith gets to show you around, the city takes on a much darker tone. Dare to go down to the Troubled Water’s edge and look out at the Forth Bridge and Gillian will whisper the grim secrets this part of the water is hiding in her 6th novel.

A city tour into the heart of Edinburgh itself with Gillian is no more tourist friendly. She’ll drive you through down the Royal Mile and across the bridges but the minute you go down The Road to Hell to the underbelly of the city - Leith Docks, well, you’re in Gillian’s deadly grasp.

“Leith’s glory days were long since over. A few of its street names, Baltic Street and Madeira Place, hinted at its romantic past as a maritime port”.

Pumped full of culture and a seafaring past, read this novel here and breathe in the salt air and the taste of danger on your crime reading lips.

Douglas Skelton sticks the heid in for Glasgow (on Booktrail)

Douglas-SkeltonIt’s a Blood City he’ll tell you, the title of his first Davie McCall novel. He’s also written a number of non fiction titles of real life crime such as Glasgow’s Black Heart: A city’s life of crime, which show you the deepest and darkest recesses of the city in real life. With this and his fictional tour of Glasgow, Skelton’s tour is hardcore. Apt that his name sounds like a certain fairground ride as his novels are thrilling rides of downward spirals and deadly descents.

And at the bottom of society? The shadowy gangster underbelly of the city - from the gang warfare now currently taking place around Glasgow Green and the streets such as Duke Street which, when full of people is likened to “a slaughter house”.

In Glasgow’s Black Heart you’ll discover the real history behind the city’s Tolbooth area and the gruesome goings on on Glasgow Green.

True stranger than fiction or vice versa? That’s a story in itself.

Russel D McLean helps us discover Dundee (on Booktrail)

Russel D McLeanAfter two grisly cities, you’ve be forgiven that a literary journey to a more quieter and small city such as Dundee might in order. Well, best not go to Dundee with Russel then as his A J McNee novels about a former detective who’s now a Private investigator reveal a deadly dark Dundee.

Scotland is grave indeed when it comes to Dundee - Mothers of the Disappeared reveals a serial killer targeting young boys, and you get a gruesome glimpse of the criminal underbelly as you did with Douglas with McNee trying to befriend ageing gangster David Burns.

“Dundee displayed its culture and shining future, its achievement and its potential. I had to wonder: Which was the real city? Was it possible for both to exist side by side?”

Douglas’s Dundee is a city to explore for yourself.

Getting gallus about Galloway with Catriona McPherson (on Booktrail)

Catriona McPhersonCatriona McPherson is a patient lady - she wants to get gallus about Galloway. Dumfries and Galloway is her criminal past. She sets her novels in and around the cities and towns there. The setting is more rural and countryside based - the village of Portpatrick comes under the spotlight in Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses but there’s even the more spiritual bodies if you go to Moffat and see the Haunted Ram which appears in Dandy Gilver and a Deadly Measure of Brimstone.

There are real buildings and real tales of folklore merged into her crime stories so chances are fact and fiction will really give you a taste of what Galloway has to offer.

Scotland The Grave is a map of victims, crime scenes and bloody secrets. But X marks the fictional spot of some criminally good writers who show you into the shadows...

Meet these authors and see their crime scenes at the Scotland the Grave panel at Bloody Scotland. But watch your step, or you could end up in a grave situation of your own.

Get your tickets to Scotland the Grave: September 10th, 12:15pm

booktrail-logoThis is the third post of the Booktrail blog takeover for a series of posts exploring where setting shapes a number of novels from authors attending Bloody Scotland this year.

Visit the booktrail for maps, travel guides and reviews for the books featuring in Bloody Scotland.



The Booktrail comes to Bloody Scotland

The Booktrail takes over the Bloody Scotland blog for a series of posts exploring where setting shapes a number of novels from authors attending Bloody Scotland this year.

Bloody Scotland is one of the crime writing, literary festivals of the year and this year, more than ever, The Booktrail is investigating some of the best crime fiction celebrated at the three day event.

The Booktrail is all about books set in various cities and countries across the world but there’s nothing like some gritty crime fiction set in Scotland. For every book on the site, there’s a travel guide and map so you see the country through the eyes of the author as well as their characters. It’s a Bloody (Scotland) good way to travel! (Visit Scotland via fiction:

This year, we’re collaborating with Bloody Scotland and I will be reporting on events, Scottish fiction and the wealth of crime fiction that’s on display up in Stirling. I even got to sit on the rather nice and cosy Judges Sofa as the crime book of the year, now the McIlvanney Prize longlist was drawn up. The winner will be announced on 9th September. Hush, but my favourite is on there so fingers and tartan covered trouser legs will be crossed. Sworn to secrecy about who I voted for though!

Tartan Noir: Crime fiction set here even has its own name - Tartan Noir. It’s a stamp, an identity for the type of crime writing that uses the rough and rugged Scottish landscape as a character in itself.

To use a Craig Robertson turn of phrase, there is a lot that is ‘Gallus’ about this Tartan Land. I have found more out about Scotland via fiction than anything else, despite having holidayed from John O’Groats via the Scottish islands and down to the Scottish borders over the years. And I’ve grown to love my adopted country even more because of it.

From Aberdeen to Edinburgh: No need to visit the Tourist Centre if it’s the literary Scotland you want to see. Aberdeen is known as the Granite City, famous for its stone as well as its oil, but just wait until Stuart McBride shows you the sights and crime underbelly of the docks!

If it’s Glasgow you fancy visiting, then I can assure you that if you allow Douglas Skelton to guide you around, there’s a experience you’ll never forget. He writes of the Glasgow underbelly where gangsters and gritty Scottish banter will not only show you the city but introduce you to the ahem ‘unique’ Scottish vernacular.

From the modern day, Scotland has always had that allure of times gone by and its supernatural, folklore element. Of course this has been incorporated into its crime fiction in more ways than one. Edinburgh’s ghostly gothic tones are as much a character in James Oswald and Oscar de Muriel novels than anywhere else. And just wait until you head up to Orkney. There’s something endlessly ethereal about these islands and this more than comes across via fiction set there.

Oh, but let’s not forget deadly Dundee under the hand of Russel D McLean or the often theatrical Galloway of Catriona McPherson. Scotland is such a diverse country, small but perfectly formed and some of the most stunning landscape in the world. And the home to some of the most memorable characters in crime fiction.

I’ll be writing about these and more in future posts. How writers showcase their part of Scotland on the map and how Scottish greats have come to the fore with their writing no matter where they write about - Val McDermid has even invented her own city of Bradfield in England. The Scottish/English divide no more.

But let’s not forget the lovely Stirling itself - home to the very festival of crime writing greatness. A city where for three days, the finest of the fine will be gathering to talk crime, murder and more. Scotland has never looked so bloody.

Scotland be brave...


booktrail-logoVisit the booktrail for maps, travel guides and reviews for the books featuring in Bloody Scotland.



Douglas Skelton on 'The Buddy System'

Douglas-SkeltonMcIlvanney Prize longlister Douglas Skelton wrote a blog for us about the importance of sidekicks in crime writing, or, as he calls it, 'the buddy system'.

Holmes had his Watson, Sexton Blake had Tinker (before Lovejoy inherited him), Poirot had Captain Hastings, Nero Wolfe had Archie, Batman had Robin.

I am, of course, talking sidekicks. The assistant.

Generally speaking, the pal was there mostly to allow the incisive mind of the sleuth to show off. (‘Holmes, you astound me!’) He, or very occasionally, she, was a foil, perhaps even acted as a muse – or simply to amuse. (Step forward Nigel Bruce.) Sometimes, they might handle the rough stuff. (‘Do you have your service revolver, Watson?’)

But it’s all changed now. The sidekick has grown up and tends to be far more hands-on than before, not just in handling the action but in actually solving the crime.

As a Scot I like to think the notion of the buddy system was created by Arthur Conan Doyle, but really it goes back to Edgar Allan Poe and ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’. Dupin had a chum. He wasn’t named and it was more or less a bit part, but Dupin needed to show off his ratiocination to someone.

However, it was Doyle who really ran with the sidekick. Or rather, walked at a sedate pace. I don’t see Holmes as much of a runner, despite Mr Cumberbatch’s efforts. Not to mention the energetic Peter Cushing.

There followed an endless stream of super-smart detectives expounding to an all-agog associate. Charlie Chan to Number One Son, Morse to Lewis, Columbo to, well, anyone he was about to collar.

In modern crime fiction the tradition continues, although the inaccurate image of Nigel Bruce’s bumbling Watson has transformed, perhaps most noticeably in TV’s ‘Elementary’ in which the character is not only Holmes’ equal but a woman to boot.

Robert Crais’s Joe Pike is partners with Elvis Cole, but the sidekick role in this duo is interchangeable.

Similarly, John Connolly’s Charlie Parker can call on Louis and Angel when the going gets tough and he needs the tough to get going. But Parker’s more than capable himself.

The point is, nowadays they’re not so much sidekicks as a collaborators. The central protagonist may have to go it alone on occasion or as part of a team.

But he or she will never get by without his pals.

Douglas will be at Bloody Scotland this year in Scotland the Grave on Saturday 10th September, 12:15pm. His book Open Wounds is longlisted for this year's McIlvanney Prize.